Patna: Less than a year after making waves with a better-than-expected performance in Bihar assembly polls, the opposition Grand Alliance finds itself on the brink of collapse.
The five-party opposition coalition had won just 10 seats short of majority, a major comeback since the Lok Sabha polls of 2019 when the NDA had made a clean sweep, winning all but one of 40 seats in Bihar.
However, on Friday AICC in-charge of the state, Bhakt Charan Das, stated the Congress will contest “all 40 seats” in the state, stunning Lalu Prasad’s RJD which stands accused by the junior partner of having betrayed the coalition ”dharma”.
State RJD president Jagadanand Singh reacted with disbelief. “When the general elections are due in 2024, what is the point in talking about Lok Sabha polls now,” he asked.
Mr Das was also asked whether he was expressing a personal sentiment or echoing the views of the party “high command”, since Mr Prasad is known to share excellent personal equations with the Gandhi family.
“I do not wish to be drawn into a controversy by being too explicit. But please understand that an AICC in-charge cannot say anything that is at variance with the official party line,” Mr Das told PTI.
The flashpoint was reached over what seems to be a trifle. By-polls are due next week in two assembly segments – Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan. The RJD announced its candidates for both seats without taking into confidence the Congress.
After a few days of stunned silence, the Congress hit back, announcing its own candidates for the two seats.
It was widely speculated that the fissures had much to do with the Congress roping in Kanhaiya Kumar and his perceived “rivalry” with Tejashwi Yadav to whom he loses out in terms of caste base but beats when it comes to oratorical skills.
Kanhaiya, who is currently in the state to campaign for the two seats, however, brushed off the suggestion with the remark “there is no comparison. His (Tejashwi’s) father and mother have been chief ministers. I am starting from scratch.”
Earlier, addressing party workers at the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) headquarters, he had praised Rahul Gandhi for giving a platform to people like him, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani, unlike “many others who are insecure about the legacy they have inherited from their fathers”.
The comment was wildly cheered at and construed as an oblique reference to Tejashwi.
Origins of the narrative around the perceived rivalry between the two young leaders lay in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when Kanhaiya made his Lok Sabha debut from his home town Begusarai against Union minister Giriraj Singh.
Despite a spirited campaign, Kanhaiya, who was contesting on a CPI ticket, got hamstrung by the presence of RJD candidate Tanveer Hassan, and lost by a margin of more than four lakh votes.
However, former BPCC president Anil Sharma asserted “Kanhaiya is not an issue” when it comes to the chequered relationship shared by the Congress and the RJD.
“It has been Lalu Prasad’s strategy to ensure that the Congress is not able to regain its support base among upper castes, Dalits and Muslims. A strong Congress would be seen as a secular alternative to the RJD. No wonder over the years he has ensured that our upper caste candidates do not get a chance to fight from seats where we have considerable chances of winning. He either wrests these for the RJD or gets these into the kitty of some other alliance partner,” Mr Sharma asserted.
Bhakt Charan Das echoed similar views when he said “the RJD mocks us for having won less than 20 seats despite contesting 70. Why does it not admit that it forced us to do away with many seats and failed to get its own votes transferred to candidates of Congress at some places.”
Mr Sharma, who had headed the state unit during the Lok Sabha polls of 2009 and assembly elections a year later, further rubbished the RJD’s demand for “gratitude” for having helped the Congress form the government at the Centre in 2004.
“They have forgotten that the Rabri Devi government was dismissed in 1999 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime. It was revoked only because the Congress stalled the move with the might it had in the Rajya Sabha,” he underlined.
In 2000 assembly polls, the RJD failed to get a majority but the Congress helped it form a government, he noted.
“Still, it humiliated us in 2009 and 2010, forcing us to go solo. We did not do well. But the RJD suffered huge setbacks on both occasions,” recalled Mr Sharma.
He also expressed bewilderment over the CPI, CPI(M) and CPI(ML), all junior partners in the Grand Alliance, throwing their lot behind the RJD in the by-elections.
“One of the many strategies adopted by Lalu Prasad to build his political edifice has been weaning away leaders and cadres of the Left parties,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the ruling NDA is watching the kerfuffle in the Grand Alliance camp with bemusement, confident of making little work of the by-polls where it has to contend with a fractured opposition.
Voting will take place for both the seats on October 30.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)