Poor chemistry may upset Mahagatbandhan arithmetic

Lok Sabha elections in Bihar are being held in seven phases. When the battle of Bihar started last month in right earnest, it was evenly poised, given the caste arithmetic of the two alliances — NDA (comprising BJP, JD-U and LJP) and Grand Alliance (comprising RJD, Congress, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM and self-proclaimed ‘son of Mallah’ Mukesh Sahni’s VIP (Vikasheel Insaan Party).

Three phases down the line, the question in everyone’s mind: Is the Mahagatbandhan fighting a lost battle? A comprehensive analysis shows NDA is relatively ahead of its rival. Not that there is any Modi wave, or for that matter, any Nitish wave. But the NDA has gained an edge over its opponents due to the faction-ridden Mahagatbandhan leaders who are baying for each other’s blood. Else, how could one explain that when Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed four rallies in Bihar in the last one month, every time the RJD leader and Lalu Prasad’s heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav gave Rahul a miss on some or other flimsy excuse.

“Rahul Gandhi addressed a rally in Purnia on March 23 for his candidate Pappu Singh. Then again, he addressed a rally in Gaya on April 9 for Jitan Ram Manjhi, besides two other rallies: Katihar on April 10 (for Congress nominee Tariq Anwar) and Supaul on April 20 (for Ranjeet Ranjan, sitting Congress MP). On all four occasions, Tejashwi was conspicuous by his absence. What kind of message are you giving to the voters,” wondered former Bihar Congress president Kaukab Quadri, while speaking to Deccan Herald.

Now, contrast this with the NDA rallies. At every rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has posed with him, a picture of unity. The presence of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan (who is not contesting Lok Sabha polls, but is campaigning) is icing on the NDA cake.

Reign of error

Another senior party leader, who is also a Congress media panelist, lamented that the Mahagatbandhan grossly erred on two fronts. “The first error was while distributing tickets among the constituents of the Grand Alliance. And then, by not campaigning together, it’s giving a loud and clear message that the Mahagatbandhan may be united in theory, but the lack of chemistry between its workers on the ground may upset its poll arithmetic,” the senior Congress leader admitted.

To buttress his point, he cites how Ranjeet Ranjan, the sitting Congress MP from Supaul, could have won hands down, but more than the JD(U) rival Dileshwar Kamat, she is facing an ‘enemy within’ (read an RJD rebel who is contesting against her, with the tacit support of Tejashwi).

The RJD leaders have their own axe to grind. They argue that the RJD rebel is contesting against Ranjeet to teach her husband Pappu Yadav, the sitting MP from adjoining Madhepura, a lesson. “Pappu Yadav, suspended from RJD, is contesting as an independent against the official RJD candidate Sharad Yadav. Congress should have told Ranjeet’s husband to withdraw from the fray as he was damaging Sharad’s prospects. Since she could not persuade her husband to withdraw, RJD was left with no option but a tit-for-tat move,” said a former RJD MP.

A similar scenario was witnessed in Katihar, where the NCP fielded its nominee Md Shakur against Congress’ Tariq Anwar (who last year quit NCP and re-joined his old party). In Kishanganj, the AIMIM fielded Akhtarul Imam against Congress candidate Md Javed, thereby making the poll battle easier for JD(U) nominee Mahmood Ashraf.

In Darbhanga, too, the Mahagatbandhan is on a weak wicket. The RJD nominee Abdul Bari Siddiqui is facing a double whammy. On the one hand, Congress leaders are unhappy over denial of ticket to cricketer-turned- parliamentarian, Kirti Azad, who last month dumped BJP and joined Congress. Siddiqui is also facing hostile supporters of Md Ali Ashraf Fatmi, the former RJD MP from Darbhanga, who too was denied ticket.

In neighbouring Madhubani, the Mahagatbandhan’s prospects are equally worse as former Congress MP Shakeel Ahmad (who was a union minister in the UPA government) is contesting as an independent against the Mahagatbandhan nominee, thereby making the poll battle easier for Ajay Yadav, son of veteran BJP MP Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav.

Misfire by Shotgun

The scene is not so rosy for Patna Sahib MP Shatrughan Sinha, Congress’ borrowed player who dumped the BJP to join the grand old party. Ever since he joined the party, Shatru has been drawing flak by Congressmen in his hometown, Patna.

Angry with Shatru for hobnobbing with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati, while canvassing for his wife Poonam Sinha, the Samajwadi Party candidate from Lucknow against BJP’s Rajnath Singh, Congress leaders have started calling him names. “Congress ka ‘Shatru’, Lalu ka dalal (agent) hai,” shouted the protestors at Sadaquat Ashram, the headquarters of Congress, while blaming Bihar Congress chief Madan Mohan Jha, Congress’ Bihar in-charge Shakti Sinh Gohil and Rajya Sabha member Akhilesh Singh for ‘selling’ tickets.

Though Jha tried to assuage the ruffled feathers of disgruntled Congressmen, he had no answer when they asked him: “How come Shatru, who was sent by the party high command to make his debut presence at Sadaquat Ashram, rushed to Rabri’s residence to seek RJD leader’s blessings? Or, for that matter, how come he rushed to Lucknow the next day to campaign for his wife in the company of Akhilesh Yadav, who has been berating Rahul Gandhi? Or, how could he say Mayawati was a prime-ministerial candidate, when he is now in Rahul Gandhi’s party?”

No senior Congress leader had an answer. Equally puzzled are the voters. And the NDA leaders can’t stop giggling at all this.  

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