Bihar polls revive Cong hopes

Bihar polls revive Cong hopes

Down in the dumps after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress saw a glimmer of hope in the year gone by which strengthened its belief that the Modi juggernaut was not invincible.

The year 2015 would also go down in history as period when Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi had to appear in court and seek bail in a case of alleged corruption in handling the affairs of now-defunct National Herald.

The year began on a disastrous note as the Congress failed to win a single seat in the Delhi Assembly in the February elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP tasted resounding defeat at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi but it failed to reassure the Congress of its own future as the party was wiped out completely from the national capital. Rahul’s sudden decision to take a two-month sabbatical soon after, sent confusing signals to the party workers. Many criticised the move in hushed voices.

On his return, the Congress made an attempt to project him as a farmers’ leader through the campaign against the controversial amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill. The party also succeeded in targeting the “incorruptible” tag flaunted by Modi by keeping up the heat on the Centre through the alleged irregularities committed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in facilitating travel documents to former IPL boss Lalit Modi.

The Bihar elections proved to be the ultimate morale booster for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. Though the Bihar election campaign was dominated by regional stalwarts RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Congress leaders lost no opportunity to highlight the role played by Rahul in bringing the one-time rivals together to form a grand alliance against Modi.

The Congress also has to reconcile with the emergence of strong regional leaders such as Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and perhaps Mayawati, who is likely to make a strong comeback in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. The Congress had led the United Progressive Alliance for 10 years, but it has to decide whether it is ready to play second fiddle to stronger regional leaders in the future.

As an organisation, little has changed in the Congress. The talk about an AICC reshuffle and the elevation of Rahul Gandhi to the helm of party affairs too has receded to the background. Instead of radical changes and emergence of new leadership, the Congress has witnessed return of the old guard in Punjab in Amarinder Singh’s appointment as the state unit chief and another veteran Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi firming up his grip over the party in Assam. The Congress lost its chief organiser Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had emerged as a challenger to Gogoi, to the BJP.

Rahul too appears to have reconciled to the fact that he cannot wish away the elders in the party and has walked the extra mile to acknowledge their contribution and value their counsel.

In Parliament, the Congress has used its superior numbers in the Rajya Sabha to stay in the limelight by stalling the Centre’s legislative initiatives that were sought to be implemented without consensus.

As curtains come down on 2015, there has been some good news to cheer up the Congress.

The party had managed to make inroads in the BJP’s impregnable fortress of Gujarat in the local body elections. Congress also won the Lok Sabha bypoll in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and as also the by-election to the Lohardaga assembly seat in Jharkhand.
At present, Congress leaders appear to relish the small electoral gains, which can be attributed more to Modi’s record of poor governance and less to Congress’ work on the ground.

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