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Cong reworks maths as RJD, JDU flirt

New Delhi, July 24: As Bihar enters a new phase of radical political realignment with a clear axis developing between Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, the Congress has begun reviewing its politics in a state where it is struggling for an identity over the past two decades.

While the Congress is most likely to join the RJD-JDU alliance for the coming by-elections to 10 Assembly seats, it may hand over the reins of the state unit to a forward caste leader by replacing Ashok Choudhary, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to rebuild the organisation. Most leaders from Bihar who met Sonia Gandhi and Rahul in the recent past demanded a change in the state unit.

The Congress machinery in Bihar is in tatters and the high command has treated the state with shocking apathy, as a result of which there are few leaders who stand out in terms of talent or appeal. The crisis has made the choice of an alternative leader extremely difficult as there are no exciting options.

Caste, though, could play a role in the selection. An RJD-JDU alliance could give backward caste politics a big push with Lalu’s attempt to revive the “Mandal versus Kamandal” rhetoric. Hence, the Congress is planning to slice away a chunk of forward caste votes from the BJP.

But mere symbolism of having a forward caste Pradesh Congress Committee chief is unlikely to work beyond a point for the party. The BJP has made deep inroads into the Brahmin, Bhumihar and Kayastha communities. Senior Congress leaders, therefore, feel that even a limited impact can make a difference in a state where it is fighting for survival. If the Congress joins the RJD-JDU coalition, its task will become even tougher as forward castes will feel compelled to remain with the BJP.

The BJP polled an impressive 29.4 per cent of the votes in the state in this year’s Lok Sabha election, but the combined vote share of the RJD, JDU and the Congress touches 45 per cent, creating a possibility of a good contest in the Assembly polls due next year. The Congress cannot afford to fight separately as uprooting the BJP from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is going to be the key factor in the fight against Naren- dra Modi’s dominance in national politics.

The August 21 bypolls in Bihar will, therefore, be a big test and even Lalu and Nitish will decide their future course of action after assessing the outcome.

The Congress has not announced its intention to join the coalition so far but there are enough indications that the secular front will come into being. The change of leadership in the Congress may materialise only after the bypolls, though some state leaders have been pressing for an immediate decision. One senior leader said: “Soniaji is aware of the situation in Bihar. She appeared to be convinced that the decision to appoint (Ashok) Choudhary was wrong.”

Leaders from Bihar have succeeded in convincing Sonia that Choudhary had failed to unite the factions and did little for rebuilding the organisation in the state. The campaign against him is not new but somehow the central leadership is now seeing merit in the arguments of the state leaders.

These leaders also opposed the decision to align with the RJD in the Lok Sabha election and argued that joining hands with Nitish was still a better option. The question of an alliance will be reviewed after assessment of the bypoll results.


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