Confusion prevailed over Congress-RJD tie-up in Bihar on Wednesday when Lalu Prasad hinted at a thaw following a telephonic talk with Sonia Gandhi, but AICC in-charge of the state Bhakt Charan Das accused the former chief minister of “misleading” people on the final day of campaign for by-elections.
Prasad had told reporters here, before leaving for Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan assembly constituencies, that during his congenial conversation with Gandhi he told her that she headed a party with “an all India presence” and asked her to hold a meeting of like-minded outfits to take on the BJP.
A few hours later, Bhakt Charan Das, who was recently at the receiving end of the RJD supremo’s acerbic tongue, told a press conference that he (Lalu) is misleading the people. “There has been no rapprochement. Had it been so, I would have received instructions to back the RJD candidate in Tarapur, where we have fielded our candidate, in protest against their betrayal of coalition dharma in Kusheshwar Asthan.”
Das claimed that his party, which has been marginalised in the state’s politics over the years, had stunned the RJD as well as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) by the aggressive manner in which it has approached the by-elections to the two assembly seats.
“The result is that in Tarapur we are getting a good response while in Kusheshwar Asthan, which we lost last year by just over 6,000 votes, we are winning back sections of the society which had become estranged because of our alliance with the RJD,” he asserted.
To a pointed query as to whether he was refuting Prasad having spoken to Gandhi, Das said, “I am Sonia ji’s representative here……I am clearly stating his claim of any political discussions (with AICC president) is baseless. They have dishonoured the alliance. And now there will be no further tie-ups. We will contest all 40 Lok Sabha seats also.”
He, however, added “we cannot say what will happen post-polls (in 2024)” and expressed annoyance over RJD having unilaterally decided to contest both seats, despite being aware that the Congress would have liked to fight Kusheshwar Asthan.
“I had met Lalu ji in Delhi a few months ago to inquire about his health. He never bothered to have a word with me, despite our personal equations, about the by-polls. To top it all he abused me and now he is trying to mislead people,” said Das, recalling Prasad’s infamous use of Bihari pejorative “bhakchonhar” (fool or stupid), which the Congress has sought to portray as the insult of a “dalit ” leader.
Replying to another query, he said, “I may or may not meet Lalu Prasad in my personal capacity in future. We do not cease to be social beings because of political differences. I have excellent personal relations with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar whom I have never been able to meet despite spending so much time in Bihar.”
It is widely speculated that Prasad had snubbed the Congress because of induction of former CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who hails from Bihar and is seen as a potential rival to the former’s son and heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav.
Kanhaiya has, notably, campaigned intensively in both seats and hurled indirect barbs at the RJD, along with the NDA which is currently in power, blaming “those who have ruled Bihar in the last 30 years” for the state’s current plight. Congress leaders have also claimed that a possibility of the party regaining its support base among upper castes has always irked Prasad who is wary of emergence of a “secular alternative to the RJD”.
Kanhaiya Kumar is an upper caste Bhumihar an influential community which dominated the Congress when it was a power to reckon with but, following its decline, has gravitated towards the BJP.