Not Trusted by Allies, Riddled With Dissent: Why Cong's Poor Show in Bihar Means Fight for Relevance

Pallavi Ghosh
·3-min read

They say in marriage and politics, it’s important to choose the right partner; a fact which perhaps some within the RJD must be thinking. An RJD leader confessed: “We needn’t have come under the pressure to give even 70 seats to the Congress. The Congress too was aware that it may not be able to perform well as the seats weren’t easy ones, yet we were unable to talk tougher to the party.”

The first voice of dissent has already come out and more may be coming. Tariq Anwar, the newly appointed general secretary who hails from Bihar, tweeted to say: “We must accept the fact that the performance of the Congress denied Tejashwi the top job.” The thing is Congress failed to use its local leaders and this may have cost it.

For now, the immediate cost has had to be borne by the RJD, which is the single-largest party but Tejashwi Yadav’s dream to be the youngest chief minister could not be fulfilled as the Mahagathbandhan fell short of the magical majority. Despite the strong anti-incumbency faced by Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) being the third-largest party, Kumar is all set to be the chief minister.

Congress has won only 19 of the 70 seats it contested. Now, this poor performance is bound to have two immediate consequences.

First, two state polls are coming up in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. In both the states, Congress is in alliance -- with the Left in Bengal and with DMK in Tamil Nadu. But this is where the Bihar effect may come in. The seat-sharing talks have yet to begin but both the Left and DMK have watched the Congress performance in Bihar closely. In fact, in a surprising turn of events, the Left has bounced back in Bihar with 12 seats and it would not consider itself a has-been in Bengal or buckle under pressure from the Congress.

In Tamil Nadu, despite the BJP’s attempts to make inroads and the Rajinikanth factor, DMK is very hopeful of coming to power. The DMK saw that in 2016, Congress had won only eight of the 41 seats it had contested. A DMK sources told, “Congress no longer has the muscle nor the money power. We saw how in Bihar they pulled the Mahagathbandhan down. We don’t want this to happen here”. This means Congress may no longer be an attractive partner for the regional parties. This also means that Congress’s bargaining power for seat sharing may come down.

The other impact of Bihar performance is from within the Congress itself. Sources say that one round of meeting of some of the letter writers has already taken place. In fact, one such writer told “We were waiting to see what happens in the polls. We thought Congress would do well but what has happened proves our point. There is no plan in place, no clarity and leadership is confused.” While some of the signatories to the first letter like Mukul Wasnik, Jitin Prasada have been accommodated and placated, there are many more waiting to see what happens now.

What has learnt is that this time around, their reaction will be more aggressive. Unlike the first time when they never personally attacked the Gandhis, this time the Gandhis may come under fire. Presidential polls in the party are expected in January. The possibility and plan is to field one of these disgruntled leaders. While they are unlikely to win, they would have made their point.

The BJP has already shifted focus to fighting Bengal where its main contender is the Trinamool. For the Congress, the fight has intensified but this is a fight for relevance.