- Congress legislators from Bihar say ally Lalu Yadav is liability
- Rahul Gandhi hears them out, says alliance will continue
- Congress in Bihar precariously close to split
Mr Gandhi over the last two days has met with about 22 of the Congress party's 27 lawmakers from Bihar. They warned him that a squadron of corruption cases against Lalu Yadav make him a liability for the Congress at a time when its greatly diminished stature cannot afford more drawbacks. The legislators or MLAs also said that Lalu Yadav is no longer a reliable draw for non-Yadav backward castes, key to winning Bihar, and that his famous M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) combine has waned considerably.
Ajit Sharma, a legislator from Bhagalpur, told Rahul Gandhi, "We are doomed if we go with a scam-tainted Lalu Yadav as he goes to jail as we visit temples to prove our piety. Because of his (Lalu's) corruption cases, we lost the government in Bihar."
Nitish Kumar blamed a corruption case naming Lalu Yadav and his sons for blowing up of the Maha-Gathbandhan (his alliance with the Yadav family and the Congress). Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has publicly agreed with Lalu Yadav's assertion of innocence and his allegation that corruption cases are being used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to frame opposition leaders. But as counselled by Congress leaders from Bihar, the Gandhis dodged a large rally called last month in Patna by Lalu Yadav. They had been alerted that sharing a stage with the 71 year-old Bihar leader would be too close for comfort.
Ashok Choudhary, the president of the Congress in Bihar, was firmly of that opinion. Last week, when he made an expedition to Delhi to meet with Sonia Gandhi, he was allegedly castigated for suggesting that it may be time to end the association with Lalu Yadav. As Rahul Gandhi met with legislators in Delhi, Ashok Choudhary said he was "hurt and disappointed" at being excluded from the conferral. He later changed his statement, saying that he was invited to the talks, but decided to recuse himself because he was aware that his removal as top boss in Bihar was to be discussed.
Lalu Yadav has been among Sonia Gandhi's oldest and most reliable allies and they together formed a multi-party front to take on the BJP in 2019. But his relationship with her son has often been fringed with tension. In 2013, it was Rahul Gandhi who dramatically tore up an executive order that aimed to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling that called for convicted politicians to give up public office immediately. The order, cleared by the cabinet of the Congress-led national government, would have allowed Lalu Yadav to remain a member of parliament and run for election.
Ashok Choudhary told NDTV.com yesterday that even if he is removed as Bihar President, "I will remain loyal to Rahul-ji, to the Congress." The 18 legislators who back him say that if he ambles over to another party, they will not hesitate to follow. They are left with no choice but to assume that the Gandhis are ok with that.