THE Bihar mandate is the first decisive rebuttal of the Rahul factor that the Congress has pinned its revival hopes on when it comes to the Hindi heartland.
Although Sonia Gandhi, while congratulating Nitish Kumar, said that the Congress “did not have much hope” from these elections and needed to “rebuild the party from scratch,” the fact is that Rahul, Sonia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s words found hardly an echo in the state.
In the 22 Assembly constituencies where Rahul Gandhi addressed rallies, the Congress had just one winner, former PCC chief Sadanand Singh from Kahalgaon.
Overall, the Congress tally in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha is now down to its lowest ever – from eight in 2005 (it won two more seats in bypolls later) to four. Apart from Kahalgaon, the party won Kasba, Kishanganj and Bahadurganj Assembly seats, the last two falling in Kishanganj district. Although Rahul had visited Kishanganj in February this year, it was long before campaigning started. Sonia had later campaigned in Kishanganj.
In most of the constituencies where Rahul campaigned – drawing crowds which obviously didn’t translate into votes – Congress candidates came in third, fourth or even further down: sixth in Sasaram; fifth in Obra and Manjhi; fourth in Saharsa, Muzaffarpur, Munger, Kuchaiote, and Bachhwara; and third in Kalyanpur, Samastipur, Jamalpur, Belsand and Hisua.
There were only a couple of constituencies, like Ramnaar and Barbigha, visited by Rahul where party candidates came second. His rally couldn’t save even sitting MLA Sunita Devi, contesting from Korha Assembly constituency. The BJP candidate trounced her by over 52,000 votes.
The Congress also drew a blank in the Kosi region, where it had hoped for good gains. Its poster women Lovely Anand and Ranjeet Ranjan lost in Alamnagar and Bihariganj to JD(U) rivals. Capping its embarrassment, sitting Congress MLA and party state chief Choudhary Mehboob Ali Qaiser lost from Simri Bakhtiyarpur seat in Saharsa. Of the 13 Kosi seats, the NDA won 11, and the RJD two.
AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar Mukul Wasnik refused to accept that Rahul’s magic had failed in Bihar. “The time which Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi gave to Bihar benefited us greatly. It enthused our party workers. We have to find out the reason as to why we could not translate the huge crowds that came for rallies addressed by our party leaders into votes,” he said.
Rahul’s whirlwind campaign was stretched over seven days in 17 districts in the state and he addressed at least two to three rallies everyday. Most of his speeches as well as those of Sonia’s attacked Nitish’s development plank, contending that funds were given to the state by the Centre and lay unutilised.
That seemed not to have cut much ice with the voters, neither did Rahul’s constant invoking of the “two Bihars”, a rich and a poor one, and how the gap between the two needed to be bridged.
Addressing a rally at Saharsa on September 4, Rahul said: “Your state government claims that Bihar has progressed, but show me where development has taken place… There was a time when Bihar & UP were the most developed states in the country. Today both the states are lagging behind.”
“Crores of rupees are sent to state governments by the Central Government. It reaches Patna, Lucknow but vanishes from there. It goes into the belly of corruption,” he said, adding that the UPA government runs several pro-poor schemes – mentioning the MNREGS, Indira Awas Yojana – but the benefit doesn’t reach the real beneficiaries.
Addressing another rally at Bachhwara in Begusarai district on October 30, he said it was the people of Bihar who were shining, not the state of Bihar. The Bihar shining campaign was merely a public relations exercise and not reality, he said.
Rahul also often took a dig Nitish’s secular credentials. “Asking Narendra Modi not to campaign in Bihar is alright. But why did Nitish not resign as Union Minister from the NDA government when the Gujarat riots took place?” he asked. Nitish seldom responded, except telling Rahul once to learn the basics of governance first by trying to become the CM of a state.
Today, without mentioning any names, he said that some leaders had consistently talked of Central funds as a favour to the state and this had “insulted” the people of Bihar. It was clear who all he was referring to.
(Courtesy: The Indian Express, New Delhi, November 25, 2010)