Bihar Assembly Election 2020: Congress’s poor show hurts allies, party says fought tough seats

A poor performance by the Congress appeared to prove costly for the Grand Alliance (GA) in Bihar as the party was leading or winning in just 19 of the 70 seats it contested in the assembly elections.

Considered a “weak link” in the GA and despite piggybacking on the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress could not match its performance of the 2015 assembly elections. It had then contested 41 seats and won 27.

The Congress also lost the crucial bypolls in Madhya Pradesh, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was ahead in 19 out of the 28 seats and was set to retain power with a comfortable majority. The Congress was leading on 9.

It failed to win any seat in the bypolls in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur, Nagaland, Odisha and Telangana.

In Bihar, the strike rate of the three Left parties — Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or CPI(ML) — was much better than that of the Congress, as per the Election Commission’s figures. Out of the 29 seats contested by them as part of the GA, the three Left parties were leading or winning in 16. Out of the 144 seats it contested, the RJD was ahead in 76.

Congress leaders blame a delayed seat-sharing deal between alliance partners, poor selection of candidates, weak organisational structure, ineffective state leadership, unimpressive campaign and lack of coordination with alliance partners for the party’s poor show.

The RJD-Congress-Left combine struck the seat-sharing deal on October 3, just 25 days ahead of the first phase of the elections on October 28. “It was a bad deal for us. Our negotiators should not have accepted the choice of seats. Out of the 70 seats given to us, 30-35 were extremely tough. These were the seats where we had no base and even the RJD was weak,” said senior Congress leader Kishore Kumar Jha.

A Congress functionary said the 70 seats given to his party were NDA strongholds, with the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) having won 33 and 32 seats respectively in the 2010 assembly elections. And in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the two NDA parties won 67 out of these 70 segments. The Congress also ran into trouble after protests erupted across the state over the selection of “tainted and incompetent” candidates.

The allegations of irregularities in ticket distribution and growing dissidence in the state unit prompted the Congress leadership to step in and form six different panels to oversee the party’s poll preparations and management. But that didn’t seem to have helped. “Our ticket distribution was the worst I have seen in my political career. A candidate from east Bihar was given ticket in north and so on. Similarly, caste balance was not maintained in Seemanchal and that is why we fared so badly in the region,” added Jha.

Patna-based political analyst Ajay Kumar Jha said Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, failed to lend a helping hand to the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav in campaign trail or take forward the narrative set by him. “While Tejashwi Yadav talked about jobs, economy and development of Bihar, Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders spoke of China, attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and raised inconsequential issues,” he said.

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