The Congress has unleashed all its firepower in Bihar with the party’s central leadership taking control of the state unit, monitoring day-to-day poll preparations and supervising coordination with alliance partners for the upcoming assembly elections.
This is perhaps for the first time when the All India Congress Committee (AICC), the party’s central unit, has taken complete charge of the poll management and preparations during any state election, people aware of the development said.
“The Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) and state leaders have taken a backseat and AICC functionaries are running the show, micro-managing the election preparedness besides the campaign and media strategy,” senior party leader from Bihar Kishore Kumar Jha said.
Another Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity that general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala has virtually become the face of the party in Bihar. “From the party’s election management to devising campaign strategy and coordination with alliance partners, Surjewala is holding fort. The state leaders are feeling completely sidelined,” he added.
The move followed allegations of irregularities in the selection of party candidates and growing dissidence in the state unit. Vociferous protests over the offer of election tickets to “tainted and incompetent” leaders in the first list prompted former Congress president Rahul Gandhi to step in to douse the fire by forming six panels to oversee the party’s preparations for the upcoming polls.
A section in the Congress was upset over denial of tickets to young leaders such as Kesar Singh, Tarun Kumar, Jai Prakash Choudhary, Rashid Fakhri and Sanyogita Singh.
The Congress high command swung into action and immediately rushed a team of its senior central leaders to Bihar to oversee the election management.
On October 11, the Congress announced various committees with overriding powers for the upcoming assembly elections.
Surjewala is heading the election management and coordination committee with former general secretary Mohan Prakash as its convenor while spokesperson Pawan Khera is in charge of the media panel.
However, Bihar Congress president Madan Mohan Jha, Congress legislature party leader Sadanand Singh and Rajya Sabha member Akhilesh Prasad Singh, against whom state leaders revolted, were kept out of these committees.
Three days later, seven AICC secretaries—Jitender Baghel, Sudhir Sharma, Chella Vamshi Chand Reddy, Gurkirat Singh Kotli, Mahendra Joshi, Qazi Mohammad Nizamuddin and Rajesh Dharmani—were deployed in Bihar to assist the central team.
The party also established a war room in Patna and handed over its charge to former Jharkhand unit president Dr Ajoy Kumar, who had quit the Congress last year to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) but rejoined it last month. Kumar, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, had served as Superintendent of Police, Patna in 1986.
The Congress has also deployed 70 observers in 70 constituencies it is contesting as part of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ or Grand Alliance along with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Left parties. Out of the Bihar Assembly’s 243 seats, the RJD is contesting on 144 and the Left parties on 29. The allies have also formed a political coordination committee that meets every day to discuss poll preparations and iron out localised and constituency-specific differences.
To assist Khera, the party has also appointed special coordinators, including Sanjeev Singh and Abhay Dubey, who were drawn from the AICC’s communication department.
But Surjewala said it is a routine that the AICC follows in every state election and the central team’s role in Bihar is to support the efforts of the local leadership.
“We are involved in election management and the operational part is completely in the hands of the state leadership. My role is also to persuade the dissidents and organise programmes and star campaigners, and look at the war room and media management. There is complete coordination between the two units,” he added.
The move was necessitated by the fact that several state leaders are involved in poll preparations and campaigning, Surjewala said, adding the Bihar Congress president is busy with the legislative council election on October 22.
Patna-based political analyst Professor Ajay Kumar Jha, who was previously associated with the AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, said the Congress’ move could be attributed to three factors—lack of strong leadership in the state, infighting and allegations regarding ticket distribution.
“Helplessness in handling local issues by the local leadership also prompted the Congress high command to take these corrective measures,” he added.