PATNA: After managing to ward off a split in its Bihar legislature party, the Congress is likely to replace its state president and leader of the legislature party as both leaders no longer enjoy the trust of the high command.
Despite most Congress leaders desiring that the party break its alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD as soon as possible, it is unlikely to happen, at least till the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. A majority of the party’s 27 MLAs in Bihar recently told Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi about the necessity of snapping ties with the RJD. But Gandhi appeared unwilling, said sources.
State Congress chief Ashok Chaudhary, who was one of four Congress ministers in the grand alliance government that collapsed in July, and Congress Legislature Party leader Sadanand Singh are likely to be replaced, said the sources.
Both these leaders, known for their proximity to chief minister Nitish Kumar, allegedly tried to engineer a split in the legislature party as per a plan to join the ruling JD(U). Chaudhary and Singh were warned against their “anti-party activities” by both Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi recently.
“A change of guard in the state Congress is almost certain. Only putting the right caste combination in place is what is delaying it. The high command feels the incumbent leaders are hindering the growth of the Congress in Bihar,” said a senior leader familiar with the developments.
Chaudhary, a 49-year-old Mahadalit leader and one-term MLA who became the BPCC chief in March 2013, was known to be a favourite of Rahul Gandhi till he was accused of leading a defection bid. Gandhi stonewalled several efforts by state Congress leaders to replace him in the past two years. Sadanand Singh, a party veteran and nine-term MLA, comes from Nitish Kumar’s Kurmi caste, an OBC group.
Since the Congress plans to continue its alliance with the RJD and believes that Lalu Prasad has a solid grip on the OBC and Dalit communities, the state unit chief’s post may go to an upper-caste leader – either a Bhumihar or a Brahmin. These two castes, previously Congress’s traditional voters, are currently with the BJP.
Senior Congress leader Akhilesh Prasad Singh, a Bhumihar and a former Union minister who quit the RJD to join the Congress in 2010, is considered the frontrunner for the state unit chief’s post. Ashok Ram, a well-known Dalit leader and six-term Congress MLA, is likely to be appointed the legislative party leader, said sources.
“Rahul Gandhi may hold another round of discussions with Congress leaders and MLAs from Bihar before he names the two leaders in these important posts. The party is as keen to protect its 27 MLAs as it is to ensure Congress’s growth in the state,” said a senior leader.