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#BiharResults: Why Rahul Gandhi needs to smile and be worried as well

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 9 November 2015, 18:20 IST

The victory

  • The Congress has won 27 seats in Bihar out of the 41 it contested
  • This is the party\'s best performance since 1995

The lesson

  • After the success, the Congress should understand the importance of alliances
  • Going it alone may not be an option any longer

More in the story

  • How historic is the Congress victory?
  • What are the reasons behind the Congress\' success?
  • What lies ahead for the party?

The smile is back on Rahul Gandhi's face. The Bihar Assembly election results are perhaps the first major success for the party since it's severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections and subsequent defeats in the state elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi.

The Grand Old Party won 27 out of the 41 seats it contested in Bihar. Gandhi, the party's vice-president, termed the victory in Bihar as a "triumph of the politics of tolerance over the politics of hatred". There are many elements to the Congress' success and it also carries important lessons for the party.

Also read - How Modi's Bihar defeat will alter the world's view of him

The history

Congress might have rode piggyback on the JD(U) and RJD but that is besides the point.

This is the party's best performance in the state since its tally of 29 in the 1995 elections. Remember, that was when Jharkhand still hadn't been carved out of Bihar and the state had 324 seats in all.

Many of the seats the Congress has won this time has been after a gap of nearly three decades.

For instance, 7 seats - Araria, Begusarai, Bettiah, Bhagalpur, Bhorey, Sikandra, Kadwa - have elected Congress MLAs for the first time since 1985. The party has won Rosera after a gap of 35 years.

Congress won Bikram after 48 years. It won 8 other seats after a gap of 30 years or more

In fact 1985 was the last time Congress secured a majority on its own in Bihar. Since then the party has been reduced to being a marginal player in the state.

The party's victory in the Bikram seat near Patna is even more interesting. The last time the Congress won from there was way back in 1967. It subsequently became a stronghold of the Communist Party of India and since 2000, the BJP.

The party's performance is an over six-fold improvement from its 2010 tally of 4 seats.

The social arithmetic

Another significant element to the Congress' victory is that it in the seats it contested, it seems to have gone back to its traditional social coalition of Upper Castes, Muslims and Dalits.

Among its 27 winners, 13 are Upper Castes, that is nearly half. This is significant since it was expected that Upper Castes would vote en bloc for the NDA.

Out of the remaining 14 winning candidates, there are 6 Muslims, 5 Dalits, 2 Yadavs and 1 tribal.

It seems that the Congress managed to get a small chunk of the Upper Caste and Dalit votes, in addition to the Muslim, Yadav and Kurmi votes it got by virtue of the alliance with RJD and JD(U).

Breaching BJP's urban citadels

19 out of the Congress' victories came against the BJP. It has breached the saffron party's urban citadels such as Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Bettiah, Aurangabad and Buxar.

These seats weren't considered winnable enough for the Grand Alliance. Some observers even said that the Congress had been given a raw deal by the RJD and JD(U) by being allotted so many urban seats.

These victories would be a cause for optimism in the party, which had been wiped out of urban areas in the 2014 General Elections.

Watch - #BiharResult is a political watershed. Here's why


The main lesson for the Congress from the Bihar results is that there is no way the party can do without alliances.

Consider the fact that the party's tally in Bihar is almost equal to it's tally in Uttar Pradesh in the 2012 Assembly elections. This is despite the party contesting 10 times as many seats in UP and deploying far greater resources in the state.

In retrospect, the party would have done much better in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir had it fought as part of a broader alliance.

The Congress might have to consider going for an alliance in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu which go to the polls next year as the party is a marginal player in both these states.

The two other states going to polls in the summer of 2016 - Kerala and Assam - would be its major battles. These are 2 states where the Congress machinery is still strong.

The Bihar results also have a flipside for the Congress. If the year 2014 undoubtedly belonged to Narendra Modi, 2015 seems to belong to his challengers, with first Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar inflicting a crushing defeat on the saffron party.

Unfortunately the Congress has not been able to come up with a formidable national challenge to Modi and the BJP.

The party has two choices. If it doesn't get it act together, it may end up as a supporting player to an alliance headed by a regional leader rather than the fulcrum.

Looking ahead

However, the party could use the Bihar victory as an opportunity to go for its long-pending organisational overhaul and maybe even Rahul Gandhi's appointment as the party president.

A lot will depend on how the Congress, as the main Opposition party, handles the upcoming Winter Session of Parliament.

It needs to formulate a joint strategy with the entire Opposition, like it did on the Land Acquisition Ordinance and not go for unilateral adventures like the debate on Sushma Swaraj-Lalit Modi controversy.

READ MORE - Ears to the ground: Bihar's political analysts break down the verdict

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First published: 9 November 2015, 18:20 IST