NEW DELHI: The Congress high command dropped the idea of sharing the dais with RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav last week as it did not want to give the BJP another chance to brand the Opposition gathering a convergence of the corrupt.
Lalu, a long time ally of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, had invited her to attend the RJD’s show of strength against the BJP on August 27 in Patna. Till last week, either Sonia or her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi were scheduled to attend the Patna rally. In 2013, Rahul had publicly torn up a UPA ordinance that aimed to help tainted politicians and was seen by many as a special favour to Lalu, who was in jail.
But feedback from the party’s Bihar unit as well as an assessment by AICC managers indicated it would be better if the Gandhis stayed away from Lalu’s show to avoid the charge of supporting a tainted leader. This, felt the leaders, could harm the party’s interests in the long run and tarnish the image of the Gandhis as the party tries hard to gain ground in the state. The Congress has been on the margins in Bihar for many decades and rode piggy back to power only in 2015 by joining the JD(U)-RJD alliance.
Recently, as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar joined hands with the BJP, leaving Lalu in the lurch, the Congress stood by the RJD chief but soon realised it was playing a zero sum game. The Congress suffered a blow in the 2014 general elections over allegations of corruption in the Commonwealth Games 2010 and allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks during the previous UPA and did not want a negative perception to be created against it ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Two days before the Patna rally, Rahul flew to Norway accepting an invitation from its foreign ministry while the Congress decided to send veterans Ghulam Nabi Azad and AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar affairs C P Joshi to represent Sonia in the rally. “It is an RJD event and there will be Congress representation. How does it matter if Soniaji is not there?” Joshi told The Sunday Standard.
For Lalu, his show of strength appeared to be fizzling out with BSP supremo Mayawati opting out and the Left parties having a second thought on attending the rally. However, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former UP chief minister and SP president Akhilesh Yadav, JD(U) rebel Sharad Yadav and JMM leader Hemant Soren are expected to be there.