Sonia Gandhi, the interim president of the Congress has reportedly spoken to former Bihar chief minister and RJD national president Lalu Prasad Yadav to break the ice following a public spat between both the parties over the continuation of the alliance in Bihar.
Sonia Gandhi called Lalu Prasad on Tuesday right after she convened a meeting of general secretaries, state in-charges and other senior functionaries of the party. Sonia Gandhi reached out to Lalu Prasad three days after Yadav slammed Congress’ Bihar in-charge, Bhakta Charan Das, with a crude Bihari adjective ‘bhakchonar’ that roughly translates as a fool or a man of low IQ.
Later on Lalu Yadav told the media that he told Sonia Gandhi to form a strong alternative to BJP at the national level politics. “I spoke to Sonia Gandhi. She asked me about my well-being and whereabouts. I said that I am fine, your party is an all India party so get all like-minded people and parties together to form a strong alternative (to the ruling party) and call a meeting of all people,” he was quoted by ANI saying this.
I spoke to Sonia Gandhi. She asked me about my well-being & whereabouts. I said, I’m fine, your party is an all India party so get all like-minded people & parties together to form a strong alternative (to ruling party) & call a meeting of all people: RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav pic.twitter.com/LfibpAOUdM— ANI (@ANI) October 27, 2021
Lalu had remarked after Bhakta Charan Das announced the exit of the Congress from RJD led grand alliance in Bihar and further blamed the RJD for playing in the hands of the BJP. The rebuff of Lalu further escalated the war of words between Congress and the RJD in Bihar where Congress workers burnt the effigy of Lalu Prasad and held demonstrations. The Congress accused Lalu Prasad of insulting a Dalit leader.
Congress leaders had slammed Lalu for insulting remarks against Bhakta Das
Senior Congress leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had slammed the RJD chief for hurting the Dalit community. She said that Lalu’s remark was tantamount to offences under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. Congress MLC Prem Chand Mishra threatened that Congress can also pay in the same coin to Lalu Prasad if it forgets dignity and modesty. Bihar Congress spokesperson Rajesh Rathore had asked whether Lalu Prasad lost his senses due to illness. On calling him a fool, Bhakta Charan Das asked Lalu Prasad to introspect how he fooled poor people of Bihar and even his own Yadav community.
RJD spokesperson Mritunjay Tiwari said that Lalu Prasad just pointed out Bhakta Charan Das was flippant about the politics of Bihar. “Don’t teach Lalu Prasad about the politics of Bihar. He is the axis of the secular politics of Bihar. Congress has to decide whether to stay in alliance or not. Let the result of by-polls come their (Congress) euphoria will be over,” RJD spokesperson told OpIndia.
Two assembly seats as the immediate reason for the rift
The Congress was annoyed as the RJD fielded candidates for Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur assembly seats of Bihar assembly where the by-poll is scheduled on October 30. Congress claimed Kusheshwar Asthan as its traditional seat which the Congress had contested in the 2020 assembly election under the seat-sharing pact. However, Congress had lost this seat. In this context, Bhakta Charan Das announced the exit of the Congress from the grand alliance and further charged the RJD for hobnobbing with the BJP.
In Bihar, Congress has been depending upon the RJD for its survival. Lalu Prasad smashed the pre-poll posturing of the Congress. He questioned the usefulness of Congress as an alliance partner and said: “What is Congress’ alliance? Would we have left everything to Congress for a loss? For losing deposits?”
Due to his judicial custody following his conviction in a series of fodder scam cases, Lalu Prasad was forced to stay away from active politics. Even behind the bars, he was monitoring the affairs of the party, especially during the 2020 Bihar assembly election. After getting bail he stayed in Delhi due to poor health.
“Just in case the NDA and the Congress are trying to write-off Laluji he has come back he is campaigning and he has addressed a rally today,” former RJD MLA and Lalu loyalist told the OpIndia.
When RJD considered Congress as liability
What Lalu questioned the usefulness of alliance with the Congress, RJD leaders in their private discussions started raising questions right after the result of the Bihar assembly election. During the seat-sharing exercise, Congress haggled and got 70 seats but it could win only 19 seats. In fact, the RJD narrowly missed power in Bihar and many RJD leaders had blamed Congress for dragging the party down.
Congress in Bihar
Sonia Gandhi calling Lalu Prasad is largely seen as a move to placate him. But in Bihar, a section of the Congress party is hopeful that JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar who has joined the party will write the script of the revival of the party in Bihar. But many veterans of the Congress who have seen the rise and fall of the party in Bihar have reservations that Kanhaiya Kumar with no control over his rhetoric may consolidate anti-Congress votes. The RJD had rather disliked the entry of Kanhaiya Kumar.
The jury is out and only the by-poll results will decide whether RJD and Congress are playing a fixed match or the alliance has indeed broken down.