Can Sonia alter the outcome of the Bihar Polls?

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Can Sonia alter the outcome of the Bihar Polls?

Can Sonia alter the outcome of the Bihar Polls?

Amlan Home Chowdhury   ¦    Sep 14, 2020 11:55:59 AM (IST)

Can Sonia alter the outcome of the Bihar Polls?-1Can Sonia alter the outcome of the Bihar Polls?-2

Patna: A part of the UPA with RJD and Left Parties being its other constituents, the Congress is fighting the coming Legislative Assembly polls in Bihar amidst uncertainty caused by the sidelining of 23 Dissent Letter Writers on September 11, 2020.

Derogatorily termed the ‘Group of 23’ and ‘Traitors’ at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting held on August 24, 2020, these Letter Writers comprising senior party-men questioned the capabilities of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in leading the party indirectly asking for "visible leadership".

After the CWC meeting on September 11, 2020 culminated in the removal of Ghulam Nabi Azad from his post of General Secretary and the pushing most of the 23 Dissent Letter Writers onto their back foot, it created massive repercussions in the politically hyper-sensitive Bihar.

Politically speaking, these Letter Writers have a substantial following in Bihar. Besides, Azad was very much respected by the Muslim members of the party in Bihar. Some congress-men in Bihar also opposed the continuance of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s supremacy in the party.  This has not gone down well with the party leaders in Bihar and they fear, a section of party cadre loyal to the Letter Writers may resort to cross-voting with Muslims going for RJD rather than the Congress due to Azad-factor.

The September 11, 2020 developments very clearly established the fact nationally that the CWC reshuffling was aimed at conveying:

  1. That the party is not open to central leadership outside the Nehru-Gandhi family 
  2. Anyone opposing or challenging Sonia Gandhi will be ousted even if it meant weakening the party 
  3. The Nehru-Gandhi family wants the maintenance of the status quo in the party 
  4. The party is ready to risk its Muslim vote bank shift and would not mind removing Muslim prominent leaders like Azad

The Biharis who played very dominant roles in Congress since the Champaran Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi of 1917, were dismayed to see the party’s almost blatant message that its Core Committee is not at all ready for anybody outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to take charge. 

The September 11, 2020 CWC shake-up in which the supremacy of Team Rahul and Sonia Gandhi-Priyanka Gandhi Vadra combine became crystal clear was rather untimely as Bihar-polls are scheduled in October-November this year.

It also came at a time when West Bengal is holding its Legislative Assembly polls at the beginning of 2021. Both West Bengal and Bihar are always politically volatile and minor issues become major platforms for mass dissent.

Hence, the timing of the removal of Azad could be political suicide.

The reconstituted AICC has a new Central Election Authority comprising a special six-member committee to assist Sonia Gandhi. They are A.K. Antony, Ahmed Patel, and Ambika Soni (supporters of Sonia Gandhi), and K.C. Venugopal and Randeep Singh Surjewala (very close to Rahul). But they don’t have much say in Bihar. Would they be, hence, able to cut ice in Bihar polls?
The sidelining of Mallikarjun Kharge, a much-respected figure in the Bihar Congress may also create problems for the party in the coming polls. 

Naturally, their supporters in Bihar now have turned hostile toward the Party High Command. 

This further distanced some leaders of the Bihar Congress who too were unhappy at the dismal performance of the party in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in different parts of India. Naturally, dissent letter writers are getting their sympathies and support putting a big question mark about the hope of Congress in the coming polls.

In Bihar, the party sharply divided into three blocs after the Lok Sabha polls:

  1.  Style of the functioning of Rahul Gandhi which they blamed for parliamentary polls defeat 
  2. Old leaders rising against Rahul's Core Group (or Youth Brigade) for constantly demanding to make him party President despite a series of poll defeats 
  3. Demand for old or senior leaders to search for an alternative to the Gandhis. 

Interestingly, none from Bihar finds a pace in the newly formed CWC. Naturally, it has demoralized the party cadre in the state.

Traditionally in Congress politics, the developments in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh besides New Delhi heavily influenced the polls in Bihar. Here, a very interesting development took place in respect of Uttar Pradesh on September 11, 2020.

The CWC handed over the entire charge of the electorally crucial Uttar Pradesh to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. She had been the General Secretary In-charge of Uttar Pradesh (East) since January 2019.

Now the entire state has been given to her to manage for the next Legislative Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh due in 2022. Sonia Gandhi did this despite knowing it meant sidelining senior and efficient leaders of Congress of Uttar Pradesh.

This now is having a massive political Domino Effects in poll-bound Bihar and West Bengal.

The removal of Jitin Prasada, another dissent letter signatory, as In-charge of Uttar Pradesh and making him In-charge of Bengal, speaks about Sonia’s strong resolve to crush dissidence which will have immediate counter effects in Bihar and West Bengal.

This ‘Group of 23’ also denotes the now sidelined dissidents like Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, and Veerappa Moily: all of them having strong support-bases in Bihar, UP, and West Bengal.

During the last Lok Sabha polls and Legislative Assembly polls in Bihar, both Sonia and Rahul campaigned for Congress and UPA candidates but with minimal success. Hence, they are unlikely to impress the voters in Bihar.

This year, however, the political situation in Bihar has changed drastically as the ruling NDA is not in a strong position due to popular sentiments rising against the Nitish Kumar government and his Janata Dal (United). The JD (U)-partner BJP too is not in a very strong position due to the absence of strong state-level leaders.

On the other hand, the LJP – another partner of the NDA – is strongly antagonistic to Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister, and his JD (U). This certainly will divide the electorate.

It is here where there is a fair chance of Congress to improve its electoral performances in Bihar. But the September 11, 2020’s developments are likely to belie all hopes in Bihar polls. It is quite likely a section of leadership in Bihar may desert Congress to join some other parties.

The logic behind this doubt is that the sidelined senior leaders are unlikely to take their slurs lightly and may float new parties or join other political outfits to further weaken the Congress which has fallen victim to the two inner circles of Sonia and Rahul. Now that Priyanka is supreme in UP, she may soon form her own inner circle.