Cracks Emerge In RJD-Congress Alliance In Bihar Over Bypolls And Kanhaiya Kumar’s Induction

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While it is too early to say if the brewing tensions between the RJD and the Congress will cause fissures within the Mahagathbandhan, it remains a fact that all is not well in the ‘grand alliance’.

Cracks have started appearing in the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led ‘Grand Alliance’, or Mahagathbandhan, in Bihar over the forthcoming bypolls and the induction of communist poster-boy Kanhaiya Kumar into the Congress.

Both the RJD and the Congress, which is the second largest constituent of the alliance, are intent on fielding their own candidates from the Kusheshwar Asthan Assembly seat where bypolls will be held on October 30.

Kusheshwar Asthan was allotted to the Congress under the Grand Alliance’s seat-sharing arrangement for the elections held in October-November last year. The Congress had fielded its veteran leader Ashok Kumar from this Assembly constituency, which is reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) candidates, last year.

Kumar, a former Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, lost to Shashi Bhushan Hazari of the Janata Dal (United) by a little over 7000 votes. Hazari had won the seat in 2010 as a BJP candidate, and then in 2015 as a JD(U) contestant.

The bypoll has been necessitated by Hazari’s demise in New Delhi in July this year. The JD(U) has fielded Aman Bhushan Hazari, the son of the deceased legislator, as its candidate from the seat.

The Congress is determined to field Ashok Kumar from this seat again. “He (Kumar) has a very strong candidate and a towering SC leader. His margin of defeat last year was narrow,” said Congress leader Kishore Kumar Jha.

The RJD has thrown a spanner in its junior partner’s works by announcing that it will field candidates in the Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur seats where bypolls will be held.

RJD spokesperson Mritunjoy Tiwari made this announcement a few days ago. “The Congress is becoming weaker by the day and it does not have any chance of winning from Kusheshwar Asthan. The RJD has a much better chance and so the Congress should not lay any claim to this seat in the interests of strengthening the Mahagathbandhan. After all, the only factor that should guide the Grand Alliance is the winnability of candidates,” he told Swarajya from Patna.

The Congress trashes this contention. “The RJD’s argument is that our candidate doesn’t have any chance of winning because he lost last year by a little over 7,000 votes. Well, so did the RJD’s candidate (Divya Prakash) from Tarapur. So going by that logic, the RJD should not contest that seat and give it to us,” reasoned Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) chief Madan Mohan Jha.

The bypolls in Tarapur have been necessitated by the death of the incumbent JD(U) legislator Mewalal Chaudhury. Chaudhury had defeated RJD’s Divya Prakash by a margin of 7,225 votes.

Jha said that the Congress has started preparations for contesting from Kusheshwar Asthan and a BPCC team led by senior party leader Anand Madhab has been holding consultations with party workers in Darbhanga (the Assembly seat falls in Darbhanga) to finalise the Congress’ poll strategy.

“Our candidate lost because the LJP candidate (Poonam Kumari) divided the anti-NDA votes. Had it been a straight contest between our candidate and the JD(U), our candidate (Ashok Kumar) would have won comfortably,” said Kishore Kumar Jha.

But the RJD dismisses this contention. “It is puerile to say that the LJP divided the anti-NDA votes when, in fact, the LJP divided the pro-NDA votes and harmed the JD(U) in many constituencies,” RJD leader Tarun Kumar Yadav told Swarajya.

Yadav added: “The Congress has never been strong in Kusheshwar Asthan. Ashok Kumar lost by only 7,000 votes last year only because the LJP candidate took away many votes that would have gone to the JD(U). Had the LJP not fielded a candidate, the JD(U) would have won by a much larger margin. The Congress was nowhere in 2015 and in 2010, Ashok Kumar came third and bagged only 17,000-odd votes”.

Congress leaders in Bihar have urged their party’s central leadership to intervene with RJD supremo Lalu Yadav to get the RJD to back off from Kusheshwar Asthan. Yadav enjoys a good rapport with Sonia Gandhi and, hope Bihar Congress leaders, Yadav would respect a request made on Sonia Gandhi’s behalf.

But the RJD supremo may not be in a mood to oblige because the Congress is perhaps at its weakest now and regional allies can extract their pound of flesh from the Congress. “The RJD is strong in Bihar and won 75 (of 243) seats. There is no reason why it should not strengthen itself and try to weaken the Congress, which has been riding piggyback on it,” said political analyst and former Patna University professor Balaram Prasad Mishra.

If the RJD does not abandon its plans to field its own candidate from Kusheshwar Asthan and forces the Congress to withdraw, it will leave the Bihar Congress demoralised. And that is exactly what the RJD may want.

“The RJD feels that the Congress is getting weaker and is hardly in a position to fight the BJP-JD(U) combine in Bihar. The Congress, being organisationally also very weak in Bihar now, will be majorly dependent on the RJD to fight the bypolls. The thinking in the RJD is that instead of providing men and resources to the Congress and urging RJD supporters to vote for the Congress candidate, why should the RJD not field its own candidate? The RJD is well justified in its thinking,” said Mishra.

Also, as was predicted in this article, Kanhaiya Kumar’s induction into the Congress has triggered resentment in the RJD. Because the Congress is hoping to pit Kumar against RJD supremo Lalu Yadav’s heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav.

The Congress feels that Kumar, as a young politician with good oratorical skills and appeal among the younger generation, will boost the strength of the Congress in Bihar and will be a match for Tejashwi Yadav.

Kanhaiya Kumar’s induction into the Congress was met with a public taunt by senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwary. “Kanhaiya Kumar is an expert in delivering speeches. At one point, communists had pinned their hopes on Kumar’s oratorical skills. Now, the Congress sees its future in him. The Congress should make Kumar its national president since that post has been lying vacant for the past two years,” said Tiwary.

That invited a sharp riposte from the Congress. Party spokesperson Rajesh Rathore said: “Tiwary is being guided by the RSS ideology. Instead of strengthening the Grand Alliance, he is trying to weaken it”.

“This pushback by the RJD, which is much stronger than the Congress in Bihar, is only expected. The RJD views Kumar’s induction into the Congress by the central Congress leadership as a direct challenge to its predominant role in Bihar. It (the RJD) feels the Congress is planning to undermine Tejashwi Yadav and the RJD by pitching Kumar into a leadership position in Bihar. Statements like the one made by Tiwary are a warning to the Congress against such a misadventure,” said political analyst Mishra.

A senior RJD leader told Swarajya that his party would not want Kanhaiya Kumar to be given a leadership position in Bihar. “We are not afraid of Kumar and he is no big leader. He had to bite the dust in Begusarai (where the BJP’s Giriraj Singh trounced him by a huge margin). But Kumar is irresponsible and prone to making indiscreet statements. He is a lone ranger who will only harm the Mahagathbandhan. So we want him to be kept away from Bihar,” the RJD leader explained.

The RJD views Bihar as its own turf and would, ideally, like to see the Congress as a very junior partner in the state. Any move by the Congress to upset this equation--like appointing Kanhaiya Kumar in a senior position in the Bihar Congress--will be met with pushback from the RJD.

While it is too early to say if the brewing tensions between the RJD and the Congress will cause fissures within the Mahagathbandhan, it remains a fact that all is not well in the ‘grand alliance’.

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