Rahul Gandhi  in Palamau

Congress move unlikely to pay dividend

Point Blank

Ravi Ranjan Sinha | Bihar | 26 October 2009 |

The Congress has carefully chosen the timing of elections in the Governor-ruled state of Jharkhand. But will it be able to swing it to its advantage?

With the Union Council of Ministers approving the dissolution of the state Assembly after what was widely perceived as a calculated move to wait for a favourable situation for the UPA, the decks have now been cleared for elections in Jharkhand. (Elections have been announced in phases from Nov 28 to Dec 17). The delay in bringing to an end the tenure of the present Assembly with continued spells of Governor’s rule has allowed its members to complete almost the full term of five years.

That the Congress chose its own time to ensure that elections in Jharkhand were held according to its convenience became clearer when the Union Home Minister visited Ranchi on the day when counting was taking place in Maharshtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh ostensibly to review development projects with state government officials. Indications about imminent elections had come a couple of weeks earlier too when Rahul Gandhi came on a two-day visit to Jharkhand.

As it is being seen, and not without reason, the Congress did not want  elections in Jharkhand before elections in Maharashtra and Haryana where its stakes were higher. In the outgoing 81-member Jharkhand Assembly the Congress has a strength of only nine and could not hope to improve it to 41 to be able to form a government on its own. It neither has an ally like the NCP in Maharashtra.

The Congress is apparently not looking to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) which has stayed close to it since the Narsimha Rao days in New Delhi as a potential ally. There was enough hint about impending elections when Rahul Gandhi visited among other place Dumka too, the home of JMM supremo Shibu Soren.

Lalu Prasad Yadav can be of little help unless he is assured of an alliance with the Congress when elections take place in November 2010 in neighbouring Bihar. This appears unlikely after what the RJD did to the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections 2009. Besides, the Congress is making loud declarations already that it proposes to go Bihar Assembly polls alone, insisting that the RJD is not being seen as a constituent of the UPA.

So what are the Congress chances in Jharkhand? The party does not have a credible organizational base. Even before the creation of Jharkhand as a separate state, the Chotanagapur region’s politics  was dominated by the JMM or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) partly because leaders of north Bihar who held the reins of the party sitting in Patna did not allow leaders from the plateau to emerge as important functionaries in the party.

The Congress had a strong support base in the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) but the trade union outfit can be of little help in grabbing power. This industrial belt used to send INTUC leaders such as Michael John, Shiv Chandika and Ram Narain Sharma to Parliament. But things have undergone a visible change. As one of its senior leaders from the area points out the INTUC is allowed little say in the affairs of the party. As a result , the INTUC cannot be seen to be taking adequate care of workers’ interests even when the Congress led UPA has been in power at the  Centre.

He points out that in the Lok Sabha the lone INTUC leader was from Jharkhand yet when organizational decisions are taken INTUC leaders are seldom consulted. In Jharkhand this can be of distinct disadvantage to the electoral prospects of the Congress.

Although Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Jharkhand called upon the youth to join the Congress he was probably unaware that the Congress had paid little attention to its youth students’ wing or the farmers’ cell.

The question, therefore, is whether the Congress will be able to take its victory campaign to Jharkhand ? One will not have to wait long for the answer.