Is Congress losing relevance in Bihar? Leaders seek change for revival
Bihar has been in the news on and off ever since Nitish Kumar and his grand alliance took charge in 2015. Whether it was the liquor ban or Nitish's decision to not go against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to scrap high value currency, all these made front-page headlines in the country's leading newspapers.
However, the same cannot be said of the Congress, which seems to have been completely sidelined in the state by its bigger and more influential partners.
Lack of political will
State leaders believe this reflect the sad state of affairs of the grand old party which has been confined to the margins of the state politics for the last two years.
The local leadership is of the opinion that the lack of political will to revive the party has helped BJP occupy the space of the main opposition party and attract Congress' traditional vote-bank – the upper caste.
“We are not even the B-team of JD(U) or even RJD. As far as state politics is concerned, we have lost relevance. There are so many issues that can be taken up but our leadership is in a bind since it can neither praise the government nor criticise it. And if this continues, the party would be staring at an existential crisis in the state,” said a former state functionary.
A tough road ahead
While Congress is taking the lead in getting all like-minded parties together to take on the BJP in the upcoming assembly polls and the 2109 Lok Sabha polls, its own unit in Bihar is not convinced with the idea and feels it will further weaken the already declining party.
A section of local leadership believes that being in a grand alliance in Bihar is already hurting the party's interests. According to them, there have been no efforts for revival despite being a partner in the government.
Change in leadership
Blaming the state leadership for not doing enough, they accused the top state leadership of towing the chief minister's line. “The senior leaders, who are also ministers in the government, are more loyal to the chief minister than their own party. They are just enjoying the perks of being in power and have put party work on the back burner. It is people like these who want the grand alliance to continue,” said a senior leader from the state.
His criticism is particularly directed at state president Ashok Kumar Choudhary, who is also a minister in the Nitish Kumar government. Several others like him are camping in Delhi and meeting senior leaders to convince them about the change of guard in Bihar. A group of these disgruntled leaders told Catch that Choudhary goes out of his way to please the chief minister and so do the other ministers while ignoring the demands of party leaders and workers.
Ever since the Election Commission gave a deadline to the grand old party to wind up its internal organisational elections by this year end, there has been a flurry of activity at the Congress headquarters with representation from different states, including Bihar, meeting senior leaders expressing their anguish at the incumbent leadership. The Bihar leaders believe that the party needs a full-time president who can devote all his time to party work and not to the ministry.
The selection of new state president has been on the cards ever since Choudhary was included in Nitish's cabinet and no one knows the reason for the delay.
“We want a change of leadership and Choudhary should be removed so that he can concentrate on one thing. There is no dearth of leaders in Bihar and the central leadership should make the announcement soon,” said a party functionary.
Since the internal elections are fast approaching, the top contenders for the post of president include Akhilesh Singh, Dr Ashok Ram, Avdesh Singh, Kishor Kumar Jha, Amita Bhushan, among others. “We don't have any issues with any of these names being considered as state president. But someone else should be given the charge so that he or she can focus on rebuilding the party. At present, these ministers are not even writing letters of recommendation for ordinary party workers,” said a senior leader.
He goes on to add how there is no excitement among people about the Congress and blames state leadership for not doing enough to change this perception.
“The ghost of UPA II still haunts us and people still see us as the most corrupt party. There has been no significant change in people's perception since 2014 which needs to be seriously discussed and a strategy should be devised to change this,” he pointed.
These leaders are also critical of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's politics and feel that he should be touring across the country throughout the year instead of only during the elections.
“For four years, he would never visit the state and then suddenly unleashes himself onto the people. For the next two years, he should just hand over the day to day working of the organisation to someone else. He should rather visit every nook and corner of the country and expose Modi's lies on job creation, investment, intolerance, corruption in schemes like MGNREGS, Lok Pal, price rise, among others,” said an aspirant for the president’s position from Patna.