The Telegraph
Monday , July 28 , 2014
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Cong mulls Bihar change

New Delhi, July 27: As Bihar enters a new phase of political realignment with a clear axis developing between Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, the Congress is reviewing its politics in the state where it has been struggling for an identity in the past two decades.

The party, which is likely to join the RJD-JDU alliance for the coming bypolls in 10 Assembly seats but has not made an announcement yet, could give the reins of the state unit to an upper caste leader in place of Ashok Choudhary, a Dalit, handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to rebuild the organisation. Most leaders from Bihar who have met Sonia Gandhi and Rahul in the recent past have demanded a change.

The Congress machinery in the state is in tatters and there are few leaders who stand out in terms of talent or appeal. The crisis has made the choice of an alternative leader difficult but caste may play a role in the selection.

With the RJD-JDU alliance and Lalu Prasad’s attempt to revive the “Mandal versus Kamandal” rhetoric giving backward caste politics a big push, the Congress is looking to slice away a chunk of upper caste votes from the BJP.

Although the mere symbolism of having an upper caste state unit chief will not work beyond a point because the BJP has made deep inroads into the Brahmin, Bhumihar and Kayastha communities, senior leaders feel 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 tougher though because the upper castes will have more reason to remain with the BJP.

The BJP polled an impressive 29.4 per cent votes in the last Lok Sabha election but the combined vote share of the RJD, JDU and the Congress touches 45 per cent, creating the possibility of a good contest in the Assembly election.

The Congress cannot afford to fight separately because uprooting the BJP from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is going to be key to the fight against Narendra Modi’s dominance in national politics.

The bypolls will be a big test and Lalu Prasad and Nitish, too, are expected to decide their course of action after assessing the outcome.

The change of leadership in the Congress may come only after the bypolls though some state leaders have been pressing for an immediate decision. One senior leader said: “Sonia ji is aware of the situation in Bihar. She appeared to be convinced that the decision to appoint Choudhary was wrong.”

Leaders from Bihar have long been campaigning against Choudhary, saying he had failed in uniting the factions and had done little to rebuild the organisation. These leaders also opposed the decision to align with RJD in the Lok Sabha election, arguing that joining hands with Nitish Kumar was still a better option. The alliance question will be reviewed after assessment of the bypoll results.