Saturday, June 13, 2009

Congress looks to step up revival plan in Bihar

NEW DELHI: Congress is pushing to firm up a strategy to build on its revival project in Bihar, with a serious consideration on whether leadership
of the state unit should be in the hands of an upper caste or a Muslim.

The query is among the many which would dominate the party's brainstorming as it mulls a leadership revamp across states in the coming days. Orissa, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh are some which could go under the knife.

In Bihar, minorities and upper castes, part of the famous Congress umbrella, are said to have reacted the first to the party's appeal as it went to 2009 polls alone, rebuffing ally Lalu Prasad. With results in Lok Sabha and a turnaround in UP raising hopes, Congress thinks this is its best chancepost-Babri to revive across the Hindi heartland.

Sources said the party has to decide if the leadership in Bihar is to go to to a minority or an upper caste. While upper castes have a natural affinity for Congress and the massive victory in Lok Sabha could add to its pull factor, Muslims are seen as "floating" at the moment. While they are ready to bolt the RJD ship, as evident from the Lok Sabha voting, sources said they could be tapped ahead of Nitish Kumar since JD(U) remains aligned with BJP.

AICC is set to keep Lalu at a distance. Insiders feel a tie-up with RJD would deter upper castes from joining Congress. Even in Lok Sabha, the feedback is that upper castes were unconvinced about the split between the allies being for good, stopping them from voting for Congress.

Sources said Congress could hasten the process of winning minorities through a leader of its party, especially when there is no competition for it. The same argument, however, is being made by the upper caste lobby.

Congress is said to be unhappy with results in Orissa under K P Singh Deo. The party's success of six MPs is way below the expectation kicked up by the split between BJD and BJP and has left the leadership unimpressed.

AICC sources said the experiment in Punjab of a dalit at the helm was up for review and there was a strong push for a Jat Sikh as PCC chief. In Uttarakhand, a Brahmin is being considered as state head, with Harish Rawat having been picked from five MPs as union minister. It could lead to shifting of PCC chief, a dalit, to CLP's post. In both states, Congress is aiming for assembly elections after the success in parliamentary polls.

The leadership is miffed with Karnataka goings on, which is among few states where Congerss could not put up a good performance while BJP held on to its massive lead. Siddaramaiah's assuming of top opposition post in assembly may see a search for an active chief for PCC.