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Elitism, feudal outlook: The fall and fall of Congress in Bihar

Once a force to reckon with in Bihar, the Congress today is a humble presence in the so-called grand alliance led by the JD(U) and RJD that has been cobbled together to take on the BJP’s growing might.

analysis Updated: Sep 17, 2015 14:32 IST
Mammen Matthew
Mammen Matthew
Hindustan Times
Bihar,Bihar elections,Congress
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad during the Swabhiman rally at Gandhi Maidan, in Patna. (Santosh Kumar/HT Photo)

Once a force to reckon with in Bihar, the Congress today is a humble presence in the so-called grand alliance led by the JD(U) and RJD that has been cobbled together to take on the BJP’s growing might.

It’s been 25 years since the Congress was last in power as a party in the eastern state.

Now the party, which gave Bihar 20 of its 23 chief ministers spanning 34 terms since the first assembly in 1951, finds itself completely marginalised, bereft of imagination and innovation to make a comeback and increasingly tugging at the coat-tails of one party or the other to keep itself going.

The Congress won 239 seats in 1951 with Shri Krishna Singh as chief minister but hit rock bottom in the previous election with five seats in the assembly, while its Lok Sabha tally from the state came down from 45 in 1951 to a mere two in 2014.

Party workers at the grassroots level and leaders say a combination of factors has led to the Congress rot.

Till 1966, the party was a cohesive whole, moved more by nationalistic choices and enjoyed stability. However, the leadership culled from elites remained cocooned and isolated from the aspirations of a welter of EBC-OBC castes struggling for identity since 1965 and failed to control the dynamics.

Ram Manohar Lohia’s call to the backward classes to unite in the mid 1960s spurred caste groups to rally against Congress elitism, the result being a short- lived Jan Kranti Dal government in 1967 and the Socialist Party taking power in 1971 under Karpoori Thakur followed by the Janata Party in 1977.

The Congress’s failure to read the signs and address backward caste aspirations led to instability, more apparent between 1988 and 1990 when four of its chief ministers –Bindeshwari Dubey, Bhagwat Jha Azad, SN Sinha and Jagannath Mishra— were nominated to the top post only to be pulled down swiftly, giving in to the intra-party caste divides.

“We erred in not rebuilding the party since 1990. Have you ever seen the party on the roads, agitating, gheraoing the assembly, taking up a cause or even with some gumption to stand a lathi-charge, except at the time of polls? No. How do you expect us to survive?” a party legislator asked.

Through this vacuum Lalu Prasad rode to power in 1990 and started hacking down the national party’s support base. A quarter of a century later, the Congress has been left decimated, a distant fourth behind the JD(U), RJD and BJP.

Senior Congress leaders believe that while the party could invoke Nehru and other nationalist leaders to provide a cohesive, eclectic formation embracing all groups till 1965, later the OBC and Muslim formations apart from the Dalits had started shifting loyalties, resulting in a cascade.

However, most representatives accept that maladministration, elitism, a feudal outlook and woeful lack of development during Congress years have brought things to such a pass.

Also, lack of a clean leadership and the alacrity with which the central management discarded and selected CMs putting consensus at bay stoked so much bitterness that seniors retreated to the silos and the party was subsumed.

Though the Congress did win 71 of the 324 assembly seats in undivided Bihar in 1990, it was already a spent force. In 1995, it could win just 29 seats in the face of an unconquerable caste phalanx led by Lalu and just nine and six of 243 seats in 2005 and 2010, with Nitish Kumar in power.

“It is not very surprising,” said a senior party member. “It’s been almost 37 years since the Congress lost power in Bengal and 48 years since it lost Tamil Nadu. The same is the case in MP, UP, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Gujarat in the face of regional politics.”

Read: Bihar polls: NDA seat-sharing pact staves off HAM-LJP tussle

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First Published: Sep 16, 2015 17:30 IST