By Arun Srivastava
The Bihar Congress has become the worst victim of the war of attrition between RJD chief Lalu Yadav and chief minister Nitish Kumar. Ever since Nitish rejoined his old saffron friends and reinstalled the NDA government, protracted efforts were being made to split the Congress. It has so far been averted only because of the vigilance of the state Congress leaders.
However, the central leadership of Congress has only encouraged rebellion by rushing for the selection of a new state president in place of Ashok Choudhary, who is apparently bent on joining Nitish’s caravan. In violation of the AICC rules and practices, the party leadership has prepared a list of 1,240 AICC delegates, including MLAs and MLCs and both state and district level leaders. The rebels allege that the leadership acted whimsically in selecting these names without holding proper consultations. This was primarily aimed at manipulating the names.
On Tuesday, Kaukab Quadri, who has been appointed working president of Bihar Congress, convened a meeting of the newly elected delegates at the party office. Instead of issuing delegate cards to the members, entry to the meeting was done on the basis of a list prepared by party officials. This was objected to by the supporters of Choudhary. Several delegates and district leaders alleged that their names were missing and held Quadri and presidential aspirant Akhilesh Prasad Singh responsible for the mess. This sparked protests, which led to a free-for-all which saw party workers even exchange blows.
Most significantly, some cadres belonging to the Choudhary camp raised pro-Narendra Modi slogans, which were resented by the leaders of the official faction. They believe that it was part of a BJP-JD(U) design to malign the Congress and send the message across that the party was on the brink of a split.
The party has, however, managed to keep its flock together. Till a fortnight ago, the leaders were either sitting on the fence or ready to ride the bandwagon of JD(U). But some were seen rubbing shoulders with those opposed to Nitish’s machinations and shouting slogans against the rebels. It was explicit that Choudhary stood completely isolated.
The party is contemplating to remove him from the organization, which paradoxically is what Choudhary wants. It would turn him into a martyr and he will not be blamed for deserting the party for his personal political gains; instead he would appear to have been pushed into this state. In fact, he has been preparing the ground for his martyrdom since Monday.
This whole episode would justify the charge of the rebels that the central leadership was acting at the behest of Lalu Yadav. Although Choudhary may appear to be the loser in the war of attrition, in reality it is the Congress that suffered loss of credibility.
Some senior leaders believe that the state leaders should have adopted a fair practice and organized the delegate meeting in a transparent manner. They admit that such an incident has taken place for the first time in the history of the state Congress. No doubt the organization has been weak in Bihar, but this type of bickering on the issue of selection of delegates has never happened before.
Choudhary accused Akhilesh, a candidate for the BPCC president’s post, of bringing RJD workers to terrorise detractors. There is a general feeling in the party that those who tried to scuttle the chances of the Congress during the 2015 Assembly elections are holding sway in the party nowadays.
The PCC leaders managed to avoid public criticism by putting the ball in the court of the high command. The state party also passed a unanimous resolution demanding the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president. Choudhary, who chose to sit among the delegates rather than on the dais, said the BJP would gain in Bihar if genuine party leaders and workers were not rewarded for their work. The rebels are ebullient that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi would approve the name of Lalu’s proxy candidate as the new state president. They claim it as their moral victory. They have been keeping the leadership abreast about the machinations of Lalu Yadav to keep the state Congress in his grip.
Some senior leaders also feel that, disillusioned with the BJP and Narendra Modi, a section of upper castes may be contemplating to come back to the party. But it was the impression of Congress being the B-team of Lalu that was acting as an impediment.