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Why Sonia will attend Lalu and Nitish's grand rally in Patna

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:59 IST

The decision

  • Sonia Gandhi will attend the Lalu-Nitish-Congress alliance rally in Patna on 30 August
  • Her presence is to ensure a show of unity, even as the NDA looks like a divided house

The doubts

  • Earlier, Congress leaders themselves were in doubt about whether Sonia or Rahul would attend
  • Even though numbers have been decided, the specifics of seat-sharing are not yet final
  • Congress\'s uneasy relationship with Lalu was a factor, as was Nitish\'s closeness to Arvind Kejriwal

Congress leaders have created much confusion over the last few days, but now the picture has become crystal clear. None other than party president Sonia Gandhi herself will share the stage with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad at the grand alliance's Swabhiman rally in Patna on 30 August. A Congress source in Patna told Catch that Sonia's participation was never really in doubt, and a visit to the Bihar capital by senior party leaders on 27 August further confirmed the development.

The delegation from Delhi included party treasurer and the party's senior-most leader, Motilal Vora, the general secretary in-charge of Bihar, CP Joshi, and Kanishka Singh, a party strategist believed to be close to Rahul Gandhi.

These leaders, along with Bihar Congress chief Ashok Choudhary, met RJD supremo Lalu Prasad where the programme was finalised. There were also discussions on seat-sharing and other poll preparations.

A signal from Congress

The move is a signal from the Congress high command to indicate that it attaches importance to the JD(U)-RJD alliance, in spite of irritants.

It must be remembered that the rally is designed to be a show of strength for the alliance led by RJD and JD(U), and is not the official launch of the Congress's Bihar campaign.

The source said the Congress wants to field at least one candidate in each of Bihar's 38 districts. While the number should not be a problem, given that the party has already been allocated 40 seats by JD(U) and RJD, uncertainty remains over the choice of seats.

Two-fold objective

Congress's central leadership feels that since the party is numerically weak in the Bihar Assembly, with only five MLAs, as opposed to the JD(U)'s 109 and RJD's 24, they might suffer in negotiations. That the Congress leaders in the state cannot match up to the stature of Lalu and Nitish is also a factor.

Therefore, the central leadership wants to maintain its presence throughout the negotiation process in a bid to get the seats it wants.

The other significant reason behind Sonia's participation in the Swabhiman rally is to give out a message of unity between JD(U), RJD and Congress ahead of the polls. Through this, the alliance intends to gain the advantage of perception over the NDA, which is looking like a divided house at the moment.

The BJP is yet to announce its seat-sharing arrangement with its partners, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Jan Shakti Party, Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha and Pappu Yadav's Jan Adhikar Party.

Moreover, Kushwaha has publicly said that BJP should take for itself only as many seats as it contested during the last polls, in alliance with the JD(U), and leave the rest to its state partners.

Why was Congress silent so far?

There are two reasons believed to be responsible for the Congress's hesitation in announcing either Sonia or Rahul Gandhi's participation in the Swabhiman rally right away.

First is the party's uneasy relationship with Lalu, given that it was Rahul's act of trashing the convicted-politicians ordinance in September 2013 that eventually led to the former Bihar CM's arrest in the fodder scam.

More recently, it was the mother-son duo's nudge to Lalu in June this year that made him swallow his reluctance in accepting Nitish as the leader of the alliance.

The second bone of contention is Nitish's bonhomie with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whom the Congress is fighting a bitter battle against in the national capital.

Party general secretary Shakeel Ahmad had told journalists on 26 August that there may be 'personal vibes between Nitish and Kejriwal' but the people of Delhi were thoroughly disappointed with the AAP government's performance.

The Congress, another source in Patna said, has now decided that its actions must be guided by the larger objective of defeating the BJP in Bihar, for which it has joined hands with RJD and JD(U).

In pursuit of this objective, it will have to ignore its discomfort with any factor that might be working as an irritant.

First published: 28 August 2015, 7:55 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.