The rift in the Bihar Congress became more evident with only one MLA turning up at the party office as Kaukab Qadri took charge as working president on Wednesday. At the same time, 10 legislators met or called up Ashok Kumar Choudhary, whose ouster as Bihar Congress chief led to Qadri’s elevation, and “expressed solidarity” with him.
Choudhary was removed as BPCC president for allegedly trying to engineer a split in the party. He, in turn, alleged that his removal was an “insult to a Dalit leader”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Choudhary said, “A canard is being spread about me… I have nothing against my removal as BPCC president but I am deeply hurt by my unceremonious exit.”
Asked if he was playing the Dalit card to win sympathy and prepare the ground to leave the Congress, Choudhary said, “I served as party president for four and a half years as against the three-year tenure of the BPCC chief. The party high command could have asked for my resignation. I had given clear hints of resigning. Dalit sentiments are hurt because I was treated shabbily.”
Denying speculation about his joining the JD(U), Choudhary said, “I have not held any discussion with them yet.”
When asked if several legislators spoke to him on Wednesday and Thursday, Choudhary said: “Several of them met me and some called me to express solidarity with me. After all, I have been party chief. But it will not be fair to give the number of legislators who called or met me.”
Meanwhile, the JD(U), BJP and LJP seemed to be warming up to Choudhary, with BJP leader and Health Minister Mangal Pandey, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh calling his ouster “an insult”.
A member of the Bihar upper house, Choudhary reportedly has the backing of 10 MLAs and three MLCs. Some of them were given tickets “at the behest of JD(U)” or are Choudhary loyalists. Choudhary needs the backing of at least 18 MLAs to overcome the anti-defection law, though the Speaker can recognise a group of less than 18 MLAs.
A senior Congress leader said: “Qadri, despite his acceptability among a large section of the party, may not be able to prevent a split as several MLAs do not see a future with the Congress. While most MLAs look keen on joining the JD(U), some may join the BJP even if it means losing their membership.”
Qadri, meanwhile, said: “I request all MLAs to stay united and strengthen the party.”
Another senior Congress leader attributed the absence of 26 MLAs at Qadri’s induction function to Dussehra engagements.