Bihar Results Revive Dissent In Congress, Questions Raised About Gandhis

Officially, leaders responsible for handling the Bihar elections attributed it to "bad ticket distribution, the AIMIM factor and polarization of votes in the third and final phase of voting".

Bihar Results Revive Dissent In Congress, Questions Raised About Gandhis

The only senior party leader who campaigned in Bihar was Rahul Gandhi (File)

New Delhi:

The dismal performance of the Congress in the Bihar assembly elections has set off yet another wave of dissent within the grand old party, which barely managed to keep itself together after a storm of protests four months ago threatened to rip it apart.

Senior leaders who are part of the dissenters' group, said, "The Congress's performance is being seen as what dragged the Grand Alliance with Tejashwi Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties down to the ground".

The Congress won only in 19 of the 70 seats it contested -- a huge contrast to the 75 of the 144 seats won by the RJD. Even the marginalized CPI-ML, which was part of the alliance, won 12 of the 19 seats it contested, pushing Congress to the bottom of the list in terms of strike rate.

Officially, leaders responsible for handling the Bihar elections attributed it to "bad ticket distribution, the AIMIM factor and polarization of votes in the third and final phase of voting".

Others pointed out that the Congress was given 13 seats it never contested and that its performance was much better in the first two phases of voting, before the polarization started. "The Congress also contested in 26 seats which have never been won by any alliance partner for the last three decades," they said.

The dissenters, however, blame the poor performance on mismanagement.

"We were kept out of the campaign and the reports we are getting from our Bihar leaders is that a whole bunch of incompetent personnel were sent from New Delhi to manage affairs, sidelining the leaders in the Bihar Congress," a section of the dissenters maintained.

Another group of dissenters hold that the Bihar election must not be seen in isolation and it is part of the pattern of elections in other states, including the by-elections in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka.

The only senior party leader who campaigned in Bihar was Rahul Gandhi and his strategy was based entirely on personal attacks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which many leaders said proved counter-productive in earlier elections.

This was unlike Tejashwi Yadav, who had conducted an issue-based campaign, focusing on jobs and corruption, which, while not propelling the alliance to victory, had paid off to an extent. His party has emerged again as the single largest party in the election, though it lost five seats compared to 2015.

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All of this has prompted an internal questioning about Mr Gandhi's competence. In private, a section of leaders have attacked the Gandhi siblings for their failure to lead from the front. They have also repeatedly underscored the need for a full-term president who can build a new narrative and help the party resurrect itself.

Currently the top post is being held by Sonia Gandhi who has made it clear that it was an interim measure. But even after August rebellion by more than 20 senior party leaders and her assurance to them that a new leader will be selected, the process is going slow.

The process for internal elections have started and with elections due, dissenters as well as loyalists within the Congress have realized that something drastic has to be done if the party has to remain relevant and take on the NDA led by PM Modi.

Letters challenging the Gandhi family's leadership started coming after the party, months after losing power in Madhya Pradesh, almost saw a replay of the situation in Rajasthan and only narrowly retained its government.

Ahead of a meeting of the party's Working Committee in August, a section of leaders, who included party veterans Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma, had pointed to the "uncertainty" and "drift" in the party and called for an "honest introspection".

The letter called for a "full-time", "effective leadership" that will be "visible" and "active" in the field - reflecting the criticism from a section about the leadership of the Gandhi family.

A second letter came after nine Congress leaders were expelled in Uttar Pradesh.

Top Congress sources said the Bihar results will further delay the much-anticipated return of Rahul Gandhi as the party chief. Mr Gandhi, who stepped down from the top post after the party's disastrous performance in last year's Lok Sabha elections, has been adamant in ruling out a comeback.