Congress skips ‘mahagathbandhan’ meet

Congress skips mahagathbandhan meetPATNA: Dissonance within the opposition “mahagathbandhan” in Bihar, smarting under the drubbing in the general election, came to the fore Wednesday as the Congress skipped a meeting of the alliance partners convened at the residence of former Chief Minister Rabri Devi, whose RJD leads the five-party grouping in the state.

The meeting took place shortly after over a dozen RJD MLAs, including Abdul Bari Siddiqui and Chandrika Roy, skipped the legislature party meeting, apparently unhappy over their poll defeat from Darbhanga and Saran respectively.

Sources in the “mahagathbandhan” (Grand Alliance) said the RJD MLAs were dissatisfied with the leadership of Tejashwi Yadav, the younger son and political heir of party chief Lalu Prasad.

They also pointed towards the damage that might have been caused by the rebellion from Tejashwi’s mercurial elder brother, Tej Pratap Yadav, who had floated a parallel outfit and supported rebel candidates loyal to himself polls, before falling in line.

Notably, Tej Pratap, who was conspicuous by his absence at the party’s meeting Tuesday, stayed away from Wednesday’s meeting as well, fuelling speculation about a feud in the family that controlled the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Tej Pratap, however, had sent a letter through his emissary the previous day, extending full support to his younger brother and declaring that those having problems with Tejashwi’s leadership were free to leave the party.

Meanwhile, emerging from the meeting and flanked by allies Upendra Kushwaha, who heads the RLSP, Hindustani AwamMorcha (HAM) leader Santosh Kumar Suman and Mukesh Sahni, the founding president of the VIP, Tejashwi, talking to reporters, expressed surprise at the results of the general election in Bihar.

The BJP-led NDA won 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Only Kishanganj went to the Congress.

“The poll results were beyond our imagination, because throughout the election, we had seen top NDA leaders such as Nitish Kumar, Sushil Kumar Modi and Ram Vilas Paswan attending rallies with sullen faces, visibly upset over the lack of crowds. In contrast, a groundswell of support for the mahagathbandhan was palpable everywhere,” Tejashwi said.

Downplaying the absence of Congress leaders at the meeting, the RJD heir apparent said he was in regular touch with the party’s national leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Ahmed Patel.

“I will be attending a meeting of the mahagathbandhan scheduled in a few days,” he added.

The young RJD leader was apparently at a loss to explain his party’s worst-ever electoral performance, wherein it failed to win a single seat.

“We feel that the NDA conspired to set a narrative that diverted public attention from the real issues that the mahagathbandhan had raised,” he said.

Kushwaha, whose Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) lost all the five seats it contested including the two from where he himself was in the fray, blamed the media for giving in to the NDA’s “game-plan” of throwing on the backburner issues like educational reforms which his party had been raising for quite some time.

Meanwhile, a senior Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity that the party must have received an invitation for the Grand Alliance meeting. “The problem is, we have a lot to blame ourselves for,” he added.

“We agreed to contest only nine seats, despite having prepared for at least 15. Moreover, our choice of candidates was abominable. The wife of a dreaded don like Anant Singh was fielded from Munger. She lost but not without leaving us labelled as a party that patronized criminals,” he said.

The Congress leader said at many places, where the party should have fielded its candidates, it yielded ground to the alliance partners, even less fancied ones like the VikassheelInsaan Party (VIP), which entered the fray in Madhubani and ended up losing with the highest margin in the state.

The Madhubani Lok Sabha seat was won by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Ashok Yadav by a margin of over 4.5 lakh votes. Veteran Congress leader and former Union minister Shakeel Ahmed was suspended from the party for contesting as an Independent.

“While we ignored veterans at some places, we ended up reposing faith in turncoats and novices at other places. Moreover, we became a laughing stock when the RLSP fielded the son of Akhilesh Prasad Singh, one of our key leaders, who struck the bargain with Kushwaha after failing to secure a Congress ticket,” the Congress leader said. PTI