Soon after the first big show of JD(U)-RJD-Congress unity in Bihar on Sunday, strains seems to have developed in their relationship. The Congress, according to sources, is not enthused with RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s no-holds-barred “lower caste vs upper caste” rhetoric at the Swabhiman rally in Patna, with many in the party now questioning the political prudence of sharing stage with him in days to come.
A marginal player in Bihar politics, the Congress party managed just 8.37 per cent votes and won 4 seats in the 2010 Assembly elections. Unlike the JD(U) and the RJD, its support base includes the upper castes. But with Lalu Prasad attempting to revive the “Mandal versus Kamandal” rhetoric, the Congress fears the worst. A senior Congress leader observed that the political feedback for the Congress after the massive rally was largely negative.
While upper castes remain the mainstay of the BJP in Bihar — with the party enjoying support among the Brahmin, Bhumihar and Kayastha communities — the Congress fears that Lalu’s open caste play was likely to hit its modest support base among the upper castes.
According to sources, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi discussed the Bihar situation with state Congress chief Ashok Choudhary and general secretary in-charge C P Joshi on Monday night itself. Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad was asked the oversee the election efforts in the state.
During his speech interspersed with subtle threats to the upper class, Lalu had said that Bihar was set to witness “Mandal Raj II”.
Speaking about the rally, a senior Congress leader said: “The upper castes may not be enthused by Lalu’s rhetoric. It may affect even the modest prospects that we have.”
A section of the party also felt that Lalu’s remarks could be deliberate. “We are wondering whether Lalu is deliberately doing all this. I am not saying that he has an understanding with the BJP. But his actions will definitely help the BJP. It is known that Lalu and Nitish do not trust each other. It could well be that Lalu wants to politically finish off Nitish and emerge as the main player in Bihar even at the cost of the helping the BJP,” said a senior leader.
For the record, state Congress chief Ashok Choudhary gave Lalu the benefit of doubt, saying that he was only addressing his own constituency.
He added that Sonia’s presence at was well thought out. Choudhary, however, said that the talk of Rahul Gandhi not being keen to share stage with Lalu was only “political propaganda”.
“There is no such thing. If required, all leaders of the grand alliance will come together on the same stage,” he said.
Choudhary also pointed out that there was no plan for a common manifesto for the alliance, but only a common minimum programme.