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Congress in Bihar: Hoping to ride on Nitish’s popularity, but will that revive its fortunes?

Many in the Congress were surprised when they learned that the party has been given 40 seats to contest in the current assembly polls.

Written by Manoj C G |
Updated: December 25, 2015 10:49:16 pm
bihar polls, nitish kumar bihar polls, congress bihar, bihar elections news, bihar polls news, bihar news, patna news, Grand alliance, Bihar grand alliance Sonia Gandhi and Nitish Kumar at a rally in Bihar. (Source: PTI)

Ever since the rise of OBC politics the 1990s, the Congress has been on a decline in Bihar. During the last 15 years it has been nothing more than an appendage or an also-ran in the elections. The situation is not vastly different this time although it still has a small but committed vote base.

Many in the Congress were surprised when they learned that the party has been given 40 seats to contest in the current assembly polls. None had expected more than 30. The ticket distribution surprised them even more: in at least half a dozen seats, tickets were given to outsiders whom many Congress leaders in typical Bihari call ‘loani’ (on loan) candidates. That is, candidates on loan from the RJD and the JD(U). There were murmurs of money having exchanged hands for some seats.

Nevertheless, the Congress campaign has picked up pace – it has been centred on Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi. Congress candidates are seeking votes in the name of Nitish’s development mantra and against the Modi government’s policies, style of functioning and growing intolerance in the country. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi receive just a passing mention. The Congress candidates are clearly seeking votes to install Nitish in the chief minister’s saddle once again.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s outbursts against the upper castes have caused the part some discomfiture as the party has some support among them. What had been troubling the Congress the most is the absence of a committed support of a caste, group or for that matter, a popular face who has a pan-Bihar appeal. While Lalu counts on Muslims and Yadavs, Nitish is banking on his charisma and clean image and the support the weaker sections. The BJP eyes the upper castes while its allies Ram Vilas Paswan, Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Majhi too have caste support bases.

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With just two phases to go, the Congress camp claims it is in a strong position in a dozen odd seats where the caste and religion equations favour the alliance. If the verdict is decisively in favour of Nitish, it won’t be a surprise if the party increases its tally from the present five.

However, even if it finds itself on the winning side which — would give it a boost at the national level in its fight against Modi — the Congress and its leadership does not seem to have a long term revival plan for Bihar. The fact remains that while the BJP has made a comeback in Uttar Pradesh and has emerged very strong in Bihar, the grand old party seems clueless on how to revive itself in the Hindi heartland.

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