Chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United retained both the Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur assembly seats, dealing a blow to the Rashtriya Janata Dal and its estranged ally, Congress in Bihar.
The outcome is a big morale booster for the JD-U in general and Nitish Kumar in particular, though it is unlikely to have any bearing on the political scenario in Bihar. Nonetheless, it has given the party the much-needed opportunity to reaffirm once again that the byelection results are an indicator of people’s unflinching faith in the development policies and programmes of Nitish Kumar.
In Kusheshwar Ashtan, JD-U candidate Aman Kumar Hazari defeated his nearest RJD rival Ganesh Bharti by a margin of 12,685 votes while Arun Kumar of RJD lost to Rajeev Kumar Singh of the ruling party by 1,722 votes in Tarapur. But it was Congress that emerged as the biggest loser in the crucial by-elections held on October 30 in the state. Both the seats had fallen vacant due to the demise of JD-U legislators earlier this year.
The Congress, which had contested from both the seats with high hopes following sharp differences with its Mahagathbandhan ally, RJD over its claim to Kusheshwar Asthan seat in Darbhanga district, cut a sorry figure with both its candidates losing badly in the bypolls. Its Kusheshwar Asthan nominee Atirek Kumar polled only 5,603 votes while its Tarapur nominee Rajesh Kumar Mishra got only 3,310 votes.
The results have come as a big blow to both RJD and Congress. RJD president Lalu Prasad himself had addressed rallies to drum up support for the party nominees while Tejashwi Prasad Yadav had hopped from one constituency to the other in his bid to wrest the seat from JD-U but to no avail.
The grand old party also bit the dust, despite making tall claims of being more than capable of bringing about a turnaround in its fortunes in Bihar on its own in the run-up to the bypolls.
The by-polls saw a bitter face-off between the RJD and Congress after Lalu Prasad Yadav refused to spare the Kusheshwar Asthan seat for his ally, regardless of the fact that it had been the traditional seat of Congress over the years.
The party had even contested the seat in the 2020 assembly polls under its pre-poll seat-sharing formula but lost. This time around, the RJD apparently thought it wise to field its own candidate from there, overlooking the claims of Congress.
In response, Congress not only fielded its candidates in both the constituencies but also announced that it would fight from all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in the 2024 general elections, which infuriated Lalu. Asserting that he could not have left the seat for Congress to lose its security deposit, the RJD supremo went to the extent of calling the party’s Bihar in-charge Bhakta Charan Das as ‘bhakchonhar’, a Bihari term denoting an unintelligent person who cannot see things properly.
Lalu had apparently decided not to spare the Kusheshwar Asthan seat, the so-called stronghold of Congress after assessing the poor strike rate of his ally in the assembly polls last year. The Congress had then won only 19 out of the 70 seats that it had contested under the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar.
Though RJD emerged as the single largest party winning 75 seats in the 243-member Vidhan Sabha under the leadership of Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, it could not prevent the Nitish Kumar-led NDA to return to power with a wafer-thin majority. The RJD apparently blames Congress for the “missed opportunity” to form the government.
The Congress, on the other hand, had been hoping against hope to regain its ground in the state. It received a shot in the arm after a firebrand CPI leader and former JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar joined the party recently. In a party, which has not had a mass leader in the state for decades, Kanhaiya was looked upon as a big, bright hope for the party. He also campaigned for the Congress candidates in the by-elections but to no avail.
The Congress, however, thinks that the Lalu had deliberately created confusion in the minds of the voters in the run-up to the bypolls, which cost it dearly. Lalu had stressed that everything was alright in the Mahagathbandhan barely a day after the state Congress leaders went hammer and tongs at the RJD over its “betrayal”.
Lalu had claimed that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had called him up to inquire about its well-being, dropping more than ample hints that the state Congress leaders were of little or no significance to him. The local Congress leaders claimed that no conversation between the two leaders had happened.
The NDA, however, had a different take on the RJD-Congress fight. Its leaders claimed that both the parties had wilfully fielded their candidates with a view to splitting the core voters of the ruling alliance by creating an impression that Congress had broken ranks with Lalu.