Nitish Kumar packaged Anil Kumar aptly. “He is a true maha gathbandhan candidate. He began with the Congress, went to the Janata Dal, then the RJD, then to the Congress, came to us and is back with the Congress again,” the chief minister told a rally at Bhore town in Gopalganj district last week.
Even that does not tell the whole story of the Congress’s candidate in Bhore, which voted Sunday. Anil Kumar, twice MLA as well as Rajya Sabha member, is effectively a JD(U) candidate in Congress colours.
The JD(U), which is more ambitious than the 101-101-41 formula it agreed on, has, it seems, fielded some of its own candidates under the Congress symbol. Anil Kumar contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on a JD(U) ticket and clearly his former boss showed no ill-will towards him. JD(U) MLA Purnima Yadav, meanwhile, left her Nawada seat to contest from Gobindpur on a Congress ticket. Her husband Kaushal Yadav, who had won on a JD(U) ticket from Gobindpur, retained his party but contested from Hisua. A Congress leader who has been involved in the campaign told this newspaper that the party’s Barbigha candidate Sudarshan Kumar had come “from the LJP, but via the JD(U)”.
The net effect of the musical chairs has been a surge in the Congress’s confidence. It believes it may improve on its tally of four wins of 2010. “In the beginning, it was assumed that the party would do very badly, so none of the senior leaders wanted to have anything to do with Bihar,” said a Congress functionary based in New Delhi. “If there was a deal made with the JD(U), Delhi was not part of it.”
“There has been an erosion in Congress votes,” agreed Anil Kumar, who as a 26-year-old Congress MLA sat for his civil services interview in 1985. He claimed he chose to join the Congress because the party was given the seat by the alliance and he was the best candidate at hand. “I plan to be with the Congress for I believe this party has a future. We can revive it… maybe by the next poll.”
According to Sriram Singh Kushwaha, a doctor, the Congress doesn’t matter: “Whoever Nitish Kumar sent us, we would have sent him back a winner.” Jagdish Manjhi, of the Dusadh caste, said he was just obeying Lalu Prasad’s orders. “Frankly, neither the BJP nor the Congress candidate has been of any use to us Paswans in the past. Yet, I am voting for Nitish Kumar because we are RJD supporters here,” he said.
It might as well be that the JD(U)’s symbol is the palm. “There was a time when we Brahmins voted for the Congress. Then we realised the party was not doing enough for us,” said Nandkishore Tiwary. He is backing the Congress candidate this time, but not for the party: “There must be 10 per cent of Congress voters left now, people who vote for the Congress because they have always done so. I am back because I do not like the BJP candidate Indradev Manjhi. Anil Kumar is a decent man, but all I am concerned about is voting for Nitish Kumar.”