For BJP, success in Bihar will be a bumpy affair

Congress is willing to go the extra mile to accommodate even some of the NDA allies like Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha.

Bolstered by the developments in Karnataka and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, where the coming together of anti-BJP forces have checked the unbridled rise of the saffron party, the Congress is working on a similar strategy in Bihar too.

In its bid to give regional satraps a decisive say, the Congress, unlike in 2014 when it contested on its own in Bihar, is willing to stitch a new formidable alliance and accommodate all those who are inimical to the BJP. This includes the RJD, NCP, CPI, CPM and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM. Sources in the Congress told DH that in the days to come they are willing to go the extra mile to accommodate even some of the NDA allies like Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha.

“We are also aware that Nitish Kumar is not happy with the present arrangement of running his government with the help of BJP’s crutches. The way he has been rebuffed by the prime minister on several occasions, besides efforts made by a section of BJP leaders to vitiate the communal atmosphere in Bihar, has unnerved Nitish. But he is helpless as he has himself to blame for being enmeshed in such a web,” a senior Congress leader said.

With a new party in-charge in Shakti Sinh Gohil, who, unlike his predecessor C P Joshi (former union minister), is playing a pro-active role in bringing all the non-BJP forces in Bihar under one umbrella, the Congress hopes it can stop the BJP in its tracks.

“In 2014, the BJP-led alliance won 31 of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar (BJP:22, LJP:6, RLSP:3) precisely because the anti-BJP votes split the multi-cornered contest. The RJD, Congress, JD(U) and the Left contested separately while the BJP sew a formidable alliance with Paswan, Kushwaha and Manjhi, thereby winning nearly 80% of the seats. The scene will reverse this time (in 2019),” said Bihar Congress acting president Kaukab Kadri.

The Congress’ confidence stems from the fact that there is a groundswell for the RJD, Sonia Gandhi’s loyal alliance partner since 1999. “Besides, ever since Nitish dumped the RJD and the Congress, there is a deep anger among the Yadavs (12%) and Muslims (around 16% of the electorate) who want to teach the BJP a lesson for wresting power through the back door though it got only 52 seats in the 243-member House,” said former Rajya Sabha member Shivanand Tiwary.

To buttress his point, he cites the recent by-poll results in the state. “The voters in rural areas exercise their franchise quite differently from that of the urban belt. In rural areas, we can see a huge sympathy wave in favour of Lalu. The more the BJP-led government at the Centre will be vindictive towards Lalu and family, the more it will benefit the RJD.

Voters often ask us that in TV channels they see ED, I-T and CBI sleuths raiding Lalu’s house. But nobody says what incriminating documents, cash and valuables were recovered from his residence. Or, for that matter, why Tejashwi Yadav was asked to quit as Deputy CM? We have no answer. Only Nitish or Narendra Modi can respond to their unanswered questions,” says Tiwary, who has incidentally worked closely with Nitish as well as Lalu.

A veteran Socialist, Tiwary insists that the Congress will have to be a large-hearted party in accommodating all the non-BJP forces. “We have seen a massive change in Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning. One hopes he maintains the tempo and stitches an unassailable combination of like-minded parties,” the former MP added.

Planning their strategies

The Congress is aware of the challenging job ahead. “We are aware of our strengths and weaknesses. We are ready to accommodate one and all. Be it the NCP’s Tariq Anwar (from Katihar) or the CPI (possibly former JNU leader Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai), or Kirti Azad and Shatrughan Sinha (the rebel BJP MPs as Congress nominees in 2019 from Darbhanga and Patna Sahib, respectively), we will accommodate all those who are inimical to the BJP. After all, the larger aim is to help Congress come back to power at the Centre with the help of regional allies,” said a top Congress leader.

The BJP is aware of its opponents’ plan and knows deep within that it will be a herculean task for it to repeat the 2014 performance. So it has asked its cadres to pull up their socks for a tough battle ahead.

The BJP, after the recent bypoll result, is also aware that Nitish is no more a winning horse and can become more a liability than an asset in the days to come. But at the same time, it has not cultivated a single leader in the state (other than Sushil Modi who has no mass base), who could match Nitish in terms of ability to govern or fetch votes for the party. The NDA got 31 seats from Bihar in 2014 but not one Union minister from the state has given shown an outstanding performance so that he could be projected as the face of the party if and when required.

“The BJP is aware that given a direct contest between the RJD-led alliance and the NDA, it will be tough to beat Lalu’s front. It is also aware that Nitish, Paswan and Kushwaha could, if the situation warrants, desert the BJP at the last moment. So we have instructions to focus on party organisation, keep a tab on ‘panna pramukh’ (booth-level workers) and ensure a repeat of 2014 performance, though it seems an uphill task this time,” conceded a senior BJP leader who was earlier a minister in the Nitish Cabinet.

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For BJP, success in Bihar will be a bumpy affair

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