Rahul Gandhi may have many friends, but Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi isn’t one of them. So when the latter, now a Rajya Sabha member from Bihar, tweeted on Monday evening questioning the RJD’s attempt to blame the Congress leader for dragging down their coalition, it was seen as fishing in troubled waters.
Modi tweeted twice to say that if “someone in the RJD” considers Rahul a non-serious leader, they should test their leader Tejashwi Yadav on similar parameters. He also went so far as to say that if Rahul Gandhi was being blamed for “political tourism”, so should the leader of the opposition in Bihar.
The “someone” reference was to RJD national vice-president and former MP Shivanand Tiwari, who has twice gone on record in the past one month to criticise the Congress and Rahul. And there has been no RJD attempt to hush him up.
It all started after the election results which came out on November 10 left the RJD-led opposition alliance just short of a simple majority in Bihar. Tiwari, on November 15, attacked ally Congress for its poor show and targeted Rahul for “vacationing in Shimla amid the electoral battle” even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a dozen rallies. The Congress managed only 19 of the 70 seats it contested, so Tiwari’s statement was seen as the RJD’s way of expressing its displeasure.
The grand old party’s performance was in sharp contrast to the 75/ 144 seats won by the RJD and even the other ally CPI(ML), which won 12 of the 19 seats it contested.
Then, on November 16, the RJD official spokesman Manoj Jha described Tiwari’s comments as his “personal opinion”. But with no official strictures, Tiwari was at it again. In a Facebook post on December 18, he described Rahul as a “reluctant” leader who lacked the “capacity to inspire people”. He also advised Congress president Sonia Gandhi to overcome “putra moh” (love for her son) in picking a political successor.
Officially, the RJD might call this Tiwari’s personal opinion, but RJD leaders privately admit most sections of the party share these views.
Prior to the poll, when the RJD asked the Congress to settle for 50 seats, the latter apparently threatened to go solo unless it was offered an honourable seat-sharing deal. “It seemed the number of seats they got to contest was more important for the Congress than the size of the trophy. We yielded to their whims and paid the price,” says an RJD leader.
In the 2015 assembly polls, the Congress—then in alliance with RJD and JD(U)-- had won 27 out of the 41 seats allotted under the Grand Alliance with a 66% success rate. This time their strike rate plunged to 27%, having lost 51 assembly seats. “We would have been in a position to form a government if the Congress had won 30 plus seats from its share of 70,” says an RJD leader.
The Congress party’s selection of candidates, and also the fact that Rahul addressed fewer rallies than PM Modi and the party’s ‘other star’, Priyanka Gandhi, just ignored the Bihar election, have also been sticking points.
If the Congress poll performance was lackadaisical, so too has been their post-poll conduct, as there has been no serious attempt to fix responsibility for the defeat and question the leaders of the Bihar unit.
Tiwari’s comments, though, have not gone without riposte.
Former Youth Congress president Lalan Kumar Yadav has shot back, describing Tiwari’s statement “uncalled for and unwarranted”. “Shivanand Tiwari does not have the stature to comment on the role of Rahul Gandhi. Besides, being a member of the RJD, our alliance partner, it is a puzzle why he is saying things to the pleasure of our opponents in the NDA. Leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav should take cognisance of Tiwari’s statements and take suitable action,” he says.
Lalan's spirited defence, however, cannot really silence the critics of the Congress strategy in the Bihar polls. While the Congressmen are attributing "bad ticket distribution, the AIMIM factor and polarisation of votes in the third and final phase of voting" as reasons for their poor show, very few are convinced.
Subscribe to the daily newsletter for sharp insights delivered straight to your inbox http://www.js-jhgk.com/newsletter