Congress revival on the cards?

Congress revival on the cards?
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First Published: Wed, Apr 29 2009. 02 02 AM IST

Bigger pitch: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in Khagaria, Bihar, on Saturday. The Congress has fielded candidates from 37 constituencies this time, compared with just fou
Bigger pitch: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in Khagaria, Bihar, on Saturday. The Congress has fielded candidates from 37 constituencies this time, compared with just fou
Updated: Wed, Apr 29 2009. 02 02 AM IST
Patna: The Congress party, which is going it alone in Bihar in this Lok Sabha elections, is likely to win back the support of its traditional voters from the so-called upper castes and Muslims, say rivals and analysts.
Bihar elects 40 members to the Lok Sabha.
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The first two phases of polls in the state were held on 16 and 23 April. The next two phases will be held on 30 April and 7 May, respectively.
Compared with the four seats it contested from in the 2004 election, the Congress has fielded candidates from 37 constituencies this time. In 2004, it was allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
Janardan Singh Sigriwal, chairman of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) state election management committee and a former state minister for youth and sports affairs, said, “The Congress’ inertia has reduced...and at places Muslim votes are going to the Congress. This will hurt both the RJD and the NDA (the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance).”
Bihar is ruled by an NDA government headed by Janata Dal (United) leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Bigger pitch: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in Khagaria, Bihar, on Saturday. The Congress has fielded candidates from 37 constituencies this time, compared with just four seats in 2004. PTI
After it entered into an alliance with the Lalu Prasad-headed RJD in the late 1990s, the Congress was reduced to a marginal player in the state, resulting in the disintegration of its traditional vote base. While the RJD emerged as the preferred choice of the Muslims, the so-called upper castes had no option but to back the BJP.
Abdul Bari Siddiqui, RJD’s state president, also conceded that the Congress is expected to win the votes of the so-called upper castes and Muslims but said the party had played divisive politics to do this.
“The upper caste vote was with the Congress even earlier. Now with Congress coming back in fray, it has only realigned. The same has happened with the Muslims,” said Satyanand Sharma, general secretary of Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party, or LJP.
The LJP and the RJD have come together to contest the elections. Both are partners of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, which has ruled India since 2004.
“With the Congress entering the fray, Muslims are going for the Congress as they feel they have been denied political space by both the RJD and the JD(U),” said a senior Muslim political journalist who didn’t want to be identified.
In 2004, the Congress won three of the four seats it contested and had a vote share of under 5%. “The Congress will emerge as the strongest party in the state, keeping its past position here. More than 80% of the Muslim votes will got to the Congress. This is what was reflected in the first phase,” said Anil Kumar Sharma, president Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee.
“Lalu lost his balance and made Babri comments, so that Muslims dump the Congress. Upper castes are unhappy because Nitish Kumar has pursued caste politics by appointing officers belonging to his own caste (Kurmi) on important positions,” he added.
Prasad had said that both the Congress and the BJP were equally responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. The mosque was demolished by a Hindu mob. Hindus have claimed that it stood where a Ram temple, marking the birthplace of that Hindu god once stood.
In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the LJP won four seats, the RJD 22, the JD(U) six, the BJP five and the Congress three. Bihar has 50.5 million voters. The voter turnout in the state in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections was 58.02%.
Of the total voter population, extremely backward castes constitute 35% of the state’s voters and Muslims and so-called upper castes 16% each. Yadavs account for 15%. Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes constitute 14% and 1%, respectively.
utpal.b@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Apr 29 2009. 02 02 AM IST