Around a dozen candidates perceived as outsiders to the party were given tickets by the Congress in the just-concluded assembly elections in Bihar, a move that angered loyalists who refused to campaign in the polls, people aware of the matter said.
And all of these “outsider” candidates failed to win their elections, bringing the Congress’s tally down to 19 and, in the process, denting the Opposition Grand Alliance’s (GA) chances of ousting the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from power. The party fought on 70 seats, meaning that it’s strike rate of 27% was the worst among major parties in the state.
Apart from sidelining of the state leadership, choice of seats, poor selection of candidates, weak organisational structure, delayed seat-sharing deal, unimpressive campaign and lack of coordination with alliance partners have been identified as key reasons for the Congress party’s poor show in the elections.
Reacting to the poll outcome, former finance minister P Chidambaram told reporters on Thursday that the CWC will review the situation and come up with an official statement on the elections. “We accept the verdict and are disappointed with our performance. But please remember Bihar is poorest state of India. Mr Narendra Modi has been Prime Minister since 2014 and Mr Nitish Kumar has been the chief minister since 2005, yet Bihar is the poorest state of India,” he said.
But the problems manifested themselves several weeks ago.
Soon after the Congress released its first list of candidates on October 15, vociferous protests erupted across Bihar with party workers alleging irregularities in ticket distribution. “Tickets were also given to tainted and incompetent candidates,” a Congress functionary said, asking not to be named.
The protests led to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi stepping in and forming different panels to oversee the party’s poll strategy.
The central teams took complete control of the election management from the state unit and even devised the party’s campaign strategy. This move infuriated local leaders and they took the back seat, hampering the party’s election preparations and campaigning.
Congress leader Kesar Singh said the party high command should take disciplinary action against those who pushed for the selection of outsiders. He also said no state committee was formed after then Bihar Congress chief Ashok Chaudhary left the party to join the Janata Dal (United) in 2017. “The Congress leadership should activate the state unit and make it fighting fit for the next elections,” he added
The party’s Bihar in-charge is Shaktisinh Gohil.
A second Congress functionary said on condition of anonymity that the party insisted on “quantity” rather than “quality” of seats in its negotiations with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
He said the RJD had initially offered around 50 seats to the Congress after conducting a survey in all the 243 constituencies.
But Congress leaders insisted on 100 seats, and even threatened to walk out of the GA. Finally, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had to intervene and conveyed to the RJD leadership that her party would not settle for less than 70 seats.
The RJD conceded to the demand and gave the Congress 70 seats. While the RJD decided to fight on 144 seats, it gave the three Left parties 29 seats. The RJD was the single-largest party with 75 seats, and the three Left parties performed remarkably well, winning 16 seats.
Congress leaders contented they were given tough seats and lost a majority of those to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). An assessment, however, suggests that the party also lost a substantial number of contests to the JD(U) and smaller parties.
Senior Congress leader and former MP Tariq Anwar admitted that his party emerged as the “weakest link” in the Mahagathbandhan.
Of the 51 seats the Congress lost, BJP won 29, JD(U) 17, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) of Asaduddin Owaisi and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi two each, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) one.
Patna-based political analyst Ajay Kumar Jha said good candidates are not attracted to the Congress because of its weak organisational structure. “Congress lacks credible candidates and that is why it looks for outsiders,” he said.