Bihar polls: Congress on road to revival or destined to suffer?
The 2015 assembly elections in Bihar saw the Congress regaining a reasonable space in the state legislature. After a gap of fifteen years, the party’s tally rose to double-digit, as twenty-seven out of forty-one candidates in the fray won their seats.
“It was indeed a massive jump for the party, from just four seats in 2010 to twenty-seven in 2015. The Congress’s success, however, was mainly attributed to the invincible coalition that the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Janata Dal (United) had stitched to defeat the BJP-led combine,” said Nawal Kishore Chaudhary, former Patna University teacher and political analyst.
Many believe the Congress was unable to seize the opportunity to bring the party back on revival course, as it continued to rely heavily on the RJD to keep its political relevance in the state. “Bihar has never been in the focus of the party’s leadership. A virtual ad-hocism prevailed in the state Congress after removal of Ashok Choudhary as the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) chief. Madan Mohan Jha replaced Choudhary in 2018, but his cry to reconstitute the BPCC was hardly heeded to,” said a senior Congress leader.
The apathy led to desertions by many senior leaders, including former presidents like Choudhary, Chaudhary Mahboob Ali Kaiser and Ram Jatan Sinha. “The party hardly made any serious attempt to reach out to the masses and associate itself with their issues. Chaudhary, currently elevated as executive president of state JD(U), was the last BPCC chief who carried out a padayatra across the state to rake up the issues of farmers and labourers,” said a former general secretary of the BPCC, adding that the party lost its aggressive gesture over the years after many senior leaders got sidelined under the current set-up.
The Congress had lost power in Bihar in 1990 assembly elections when it won only seventy-one seats. Still, it remained the main opposition party in the assembly. The worse came in 1995 when it could win only twenty-nine seats, less than the BJP which became the main opposition. The slide continued and it won only twenty-three seats in 2000 assembly polls. However, it joined the government led by Rabri Devi. The Congress contested the February 2005 elections in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), but could only win nine seats.
In October 2005 assembly polls, the Congress contested on fifty-four seats in alliance with the RJD and won only ten seats while the NDA, comprising the JD(U) and the BJP, formed the government. In 2010 assembly polls, the party fared badly and managed to win only four seats. The last Lok Sabha poll dealt a massive blow to the Congress as it could win only one out of nine seats it had contested. The rest thirty-nine seats were won by the NDA.
Political observers say that the Congress began to lose its support base as it failed to read the signs and address backward caste aspirations 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.
The Congress’s support base in Bihar suffered massive erosion following the desertion by Muslims after the Bhagalpur riots in 1989 and Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. “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, adding that it allowed a leader like Lalu Prasad to fill in and ride to power in 1990 at the expense of the Congress.
Former director of AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, DM Diwakar, however, sees good electoral prospects for the party, particularly for the role it had played to mitigate sufferings of the migrants and students during the lockdown and its active support to the farmers’ protest against the enactment of three new laws. “Anti-incumbency is slowly creeping in the state. Joblessness is at its highest level. Industries and other sectors are in deep distress due to the Covid-19-induced pandemic. Farmers in Bihar have now begun to realize the dangers of the new acts that intend to take away their right to challenge any dispute in the court of law,” says Diwakar.
He also sees a new realignment of electors shaping up in Bihar. “Apart from a section of upper castes, who are mainly into farming, Dalits and Muslims are now mobilizing in favour of the Congress and its allies,” he said.