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Congress’s unhappy marriage

Bihar will go in for fresh assembly polls in October ’05. Since nothing much has changed between February and October, the electoral ou...

Written by Sanjay Kumar | September 26, 2005

Bihar will go in for fresh assembly polls in October ’05. Since nothing much has changed between February and October, the electoral outcome is unlikely to be any different.

The electoral prospects for the BJP-JD(U) alliance can hardly change, but a Congress-RJD alliance would make a difference for both parties: the RJD’s gains could be substantial, the Congress’s, more modest.

Surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggest that voters in Bihar continue to be sharply divided along caste lines. Nearly 60-70 per cent of Yadavs and a slightly lesser proportion of Muslims have been voting for the RJD over the last few elections. Similarly, voters from the two other dominant backward communities — Kurmis and Koeris — are equally polarised in favour of the Samata/JD(U). Upper caste voters have been largely voting for the BJP. The Dalits remain a divided lot, but have generally been voting for the RJD. Support for the Congress has remained extremely low among voters across the board. So polarised is the electorate that parties which do not have committed vote banks lose out.

The key to the success of different political parties lies in the alliances they make. Little wonder, then, that the present political contest in Bihar is heading towards a three-cornered contest: the BJP-JD (U) alliance, the RJD-Congress-NCP-PM combine and a third force represented by LJN-SP-CPI-CPI(ML) combine.

The Congress has decided to contest the October assembly elections in alliance with the RJD. The gains for the RJD as a Congress ally are obvious, but the gains for the Congress in the state are not so clear. The results of the February ’05 assembly elections suggest that had the Congress and RJD contested elections as allies, the alliance would have won 102 assembly seats — a gain of 17 assembly seats. Of these 17 seats, the RJD would have added 12 more seats more to its tally of 75, while the Congress would have added 5 to its tally of 10. Similarly, if the two had contested the 2000 assembly polls as allies, the combine could have won 26 more assembly seats. Of these 26 seats, the Congress could have added 4 more assembly seats to its tally of 12 seats, while the tally for the RJD would have increased from 115 to 137, a net gain of 22 assembly seats.

It is the RJD that gains more from the alliance. This time, as per the present seat sharing arrangement between the UPA partners, in a house of 243, the Congress would be fielding candidates in 45 assembly seats, the CPM in 9 and the NCP in 8. The RJD will be putting up candidates in the remaining 181 seats. By any token, the Congress has managed to get a much larger share of tickets than any reasonable formula may have suggested. This has been possible more because Laloo Prasad Yadav, after his experience with the February assembly election outcome, was ready to be more accommodative. He desperately needs the support of the Congress to improving on the RJD’s February performance. But the question is, can this arrangement help in any way to revive the Congress in the state?

The decision of the Congress to have an alliance with the RJD seems to have been dictated more by a concern for a stable government at the Centre than anything else. The alliance of the Congress with RJD in Bihar neither has popular support nor the approval of state Congress leaders. The CSDS post-poll survey reveals immense resistance among voters to a Congress-RJD alliance, and the opposition is more among traditional Congress voters. The survey also indicates that while only 48 per cent of Congress voters would prefer a Congress-RJD alliance, 81 per cent of RJD voters favours such an alliance. The RJD voter obviously realises that it is the RJD that stands more to gain from this alliance than the Congress. Similarly, Congress leaders feel burdened by the prospect of sharing a platform with the RJD — the party being solely responsible for 15 years of misrule in Bihar. The survey indicates a high level of dissatisfaction with the Laloo-Rabri regime, with 56 per cent people mentioning an all-round deterioration, compared to only 15 per cent who believed things have improved under RJD rule. Incidentally, compared to the performance of other state governments, dissatisfaction with the Bihar government has been the highest.

For the Congress, then, it is an unhappy marriage. With popular opinion going against the RJD, Congress leaders find it increasingly difficult to defend the alliance on the plank of secularism alone.

The writer is a fellow at CSDS

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