Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party improved its tally to emerge as the second largest party in Bihar, it took care to keep Nitish Kumar on its side by reinstalling him as the Chief Minister. It had announced this earlier, but stayed with the decision for two reasons: one, it could not risk him leaving the alliance as that would allow the Opposition to enter power. And two, it has yet to reach the figures that will make it comfortable and needs a proxy to divert the blame to. Nitish Kumar fits the bill beautifully, having lost the little spunk he used to display a long time ago.

This time he has become the butt of cartoonists, as he climbs into the CM’s chair crestfallen and yet strangely determined not to relinquish power. Lowly BJP workers were on television speaking of their party leadership magnanimity in allowing Kumar the post, and as one local woman leader said to reporters, “Nitish Kumar has made some mistakes in the past but now we will make sure he does not.”

It is difficult to see in his persona the trace of the old Nitish Kumar who treated allies in the Lalu government with arrogance, and some anger, and accepted the Opposition request to be projected as a possible leader (Prime Minister candidate) with no trace of course of humility. He left the government he had formed with the Rashtriya Janata Dal within months to join the BJP, and ignoring the criticism and the dismay that greeted this decision from those who had voted him to power, and of course all the Opposition parties that had expressed willingness to rally under his mantle.

In these five years the ground has slipped from under Nitish Kumars feet. He lost his temper at election rallies, where the crowds stayed away, and where he was heckled with Lalu Prasad Zindabad slogans. He must have realised that he had lost support, more so when his rival Tejashwi Yadav attracted the crowds, and the BJP seemed to be overtaking his party. All he has left probably is a ‘I will leave if you do not treat me right’ which is of course the primary reason he continues to be the Chief Minister. Soon he will not be able to do that either, not because he cannot but because he just will not. Besides, there is no opening in the Opposition in Bihar with the historic RJD-JD(U) alliance unlikely to be repeated without the former losing credibility.

The Congress has also emerged from these elections licking its wounds. But strangely enough in no mood for introspection. Well perhaps, this is not strange as the Congress rarely introspects, looking instead for scapegoats for its own lack of performance each and every time. Often Rahul Gandhi has been made to bear the burden, which he has again of course, with the party so used to riding piggyback on the shoulders of the Nehru-Gandhi family that its state and central leaders have completely lost the ability to build an organisation. Rahul Gandhi, while a good campaigner, too lacks this ability as pointed out by this columnist earlier and unfortunately for him there is no one around who can help here.

However, what Rahul Gandhi could have done is insisted on fewer seats, and not succumbed to local state level greed for more and more tickets. If the party had fought in 35 instead of 70 assembly constituencies it would have shown a more impressive tally, and perhaps given the RJD to win the elections altogether. The final tally was abysmal, and for any other party, a trigger for deep thought and shift in strategy. Not just in the state but across India. Given the fact that it lost all the byelections, save one, in Madhya Pradesh as well with Jyotiraditya Scindia striking for the BJP. It almost seems as if no one in the slumbering party saw it coming, and the BJP romped home without any resistance.

The second scapegoat that the Congress has found in Bihar is of course, Asaduddin Owaisi who is being attacked from the word go for taking away its votes in Bihar. And for working on the behest of the BJP. True or not, the fact remains that Owaisi won five seats, and emerged as a runner up in others. And as he has been saying since in response to the Congress attack, how is it his fault if the minorities preferred him to the national party.

The point here is that the Congress needs to start getting its own act together and not looking at the states to ride on the shoulders of the regional parties.As in Uttar Pradesh where the alliance with the Samajwadi party brought little to the table, as by that time both had factored themselves out of the peoples reckoning for, of course, a variety of reasons. The Congress has to work in each state from the ground up, and build an organisation that is responsive to the region. It has to firm an ideology that works in this age of polarisation, and use straight and clear cut arguments to cut into the BJP vote bank. Visiting a temple, or performing a puja is not the way forward, and the Congress might need to revert to the basic board of its founding fathers where ideology meant something, and opportunism had little place.

For this its leadership, namely Sonia Gandhi, will have to repose trust in the leaders and not fall prey to conspiracy theories fed to her by central leaders. To do so she will need to know and understand the Congress party… all a tall task for which she and his offspring seem to lack the wherewithal.

The only silver lining for the Opposition in Bihar is the performance of the RJD that shows that the party is very much a factor. And the Left parties who have been working hard on the ground, contested only the seats that they could give a fight, and have done well on the basis of their ground support. A great deal will depend on Tejashwi Yadav now, who will be under full throated attack from the ruling establishment, till the run up to the Lok Sabha and then Assembly elections. The Congress can perhaps make a start by not making matters difficult for him and the Left, and strengthening the alliance that has kept the mahagathbandhan in Bihar’s picture.

Cover photograph from the files.