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Nitish is new Cong Bihar chief's biggest challenge

By Saubhadro Chatterji
Last updated on: June 09, 2010 15:15 IST
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The immediate concern for the reconstituted Bihar unit of the Congress party is to deal with the three Members of Legislative Assembly (out of the 10) from the party who are supporting an independent Rajya Sabha aspirant.

But, the real challange before the newly elected state unit president, Mehboob Ali Qaiser, is to have a counter strategy in place to take on the Nitish Kumar government in the run up to the assembly polls later this year. Kumar's growing popularity among the state electorate has been a concern for the Congress high command and Qaiser is expected to address the issue.

Known as a close confidante of Rahul Gandhi, Qaiser admits that Kumar has done some good work. "It's also true that the public believes that the state government has delivered."

However, the state unit chief is quick to add that Kumar's development agenda is "overhyped in the media".

"He has not done as much as is being highlighted by the media. He has not spent the central government funds properly. If one compares his development work in terms of Central assistance given to the state, his performance is poor."

Qaiser and Mukul Wasnik, the general secretary in-charge, will take charge on June 10. Party president Sonia Gandhi was forced to scrap the old committee after the incumbent state unit chief Arun Sharma and secretary-in-charge Jagdish Tytler engaged in infighting.

Qaiser, who rose the ranks from being a Congress Seva Dal worker, said the change should have been made earlier as there was "barely three months left" before the assembly elections in Bihar.

He is also harbouring a "realistic estimate" about the party's prospects in a state where the Congress has lost its traditional vote bank over the years.

"We have just 10 MLAs in the Bihar assembly. We hope to do much better but I can't give you any estimate right now about how many seats we are expecting to win," he said.

While the caste equations and emergence of various regional forces in the state have left the Congress with virtually no caste-based vote bank, the new party state president thinks this would help the Congress seek vote across caste line.

The party is also gearing up to take on Nitish Kumar on the development plank. "It is true that in comparison to Lalu Prasad's regime, some work has been done in Bihar. But a lot needs to be done."

Asked whether the party would support Prasad, an outside supporter of the second UPA government at the Centre, Qaiser said, "It will be a decision of the party high command. As of now, we will fight alone in the state."

As the party organisation is in ruins, Sonia has asked the new team not to make a grand show on June 10, when the new team takes charge. "She wants us to perform first and then celebrate," Qaiser said at the party headquarters in Delhi.

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Saubhadro Chatterji in New Delhi
Source: source