The Congress, which had got reduced to just 4 MLAs in Bihar 10 years ago, plans to get at least 1.5 lakh people to attend the 3 February rally.
Patna: On 3 February, the Congress plans to break a 30-year duck and organise a massive rally at the historic Gandhi Maidan in Patna. The party is pooling in all available resources for the ‘Jan Aakanksha Rally’, which will be addressed by Rahul Gandhi and a host of allies.
The timing of the rally is significant, since it will be organised just before the mahagathbandhan announces its seat-sharing formula for the Lok Sabha polls in Bihar.
The last time Congress held its own rally at Gandhi Maidan was in 1989, when then-prime minister and party chief Rajiv Gandhi addressed it.
“On three previous occasions, there was a move to hold a rally in Gandhi Maidan, but each time, Rahulji turned it down. This time, he gave his consent. We are out to show that there are far more Congress supporters in Bihar than perceived,” state Congress chief Madan Mohan Jha told ThePrint.
Holding a rally at Gandhi Maidan has long been considered a litmus test of political strength in Bihar. In the early 1990s, Lalu Prasad held some of the biggest rallies the state has ever seen – such as the Sadbhawna Rally, Gareeb Rally and Bhanda-phor Rally.
However, after 2000, his rallies’ popularity dwindled, and the Lathi Rally of 2003 turned out to be an embarrassment for him at the Rashtriya Janata Dal as not even a quarter of Gandhi Maidan was filled.
The CPI, once a major political force, used to hold huge rallies at the same venue in the 1970s and 80s. However, since its political fortunes dipped, it has desisted from holding rallies at Gandhi Maidan.
In October 2013, the BJP also picked Gandhi Maidan to introduce Narendra Modi to Bihar, organising a massive Hunkar Rally. The event was marred by bomb explosions, which killed six persons, but Modi went ahead with the rally.
The Congress’ political fortunes in Bihar began to dip after the 1989 Lok Sabha polls and after the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for reservation. The party’s core voters such as Dalits and Muslims began to switch their allegiance.
In the 2009 assembly polls, the party which ruled the state for decades was reduced to just four MLAs in the 243-seat assembly.
Political activities of the Congress took place either at the Sri Krishna Memorial Hall (capacity 1,800) or at the Miller School ground (capacity 5,000). Holding a rally at Gandhi Maidan became a distant dream.
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have addressed meetings at Gandhi Maidan, but as guests of Lalu Prasad. “This time, we will be the hosts and others will be guests,” AICC member Dr Vinod Kumar Sharma remarked enthusiastically.
However, the dynamics of holding a rally at Gandhi Maidan have changed since in the last 30 years. Crowds do not come when called, nor do they travel to the venue by train. They have to be brought in buses and cars, fed and accommodated, and even entertained – a practice that came in vogue during the RJD’s 15 years in power. A “respectable” rally needs a minimum crowd of 2.5 lakh.
Thus, the Congress has followed the RJD’s lead and splurged massive resources.
“We understand that holding a rally at Gandhi Maidan is challenging especially for us. All the 27 MLAs and 2 MLCs of the party have been asked to bring 5,000 persons each. All district heads of the party have been asked to bring 4,000 persons,” said Anand Madhab, chairman of the Congress’ research and manifesto committee.
“Ex-MPs, ex-legislators and every leader has been asked to chip in. Sadaquat Ashram, the state party headquarters, will be used to accommodate 12,000 people. Community halls have been booked in Patna and tents are being put up.
“The idea is for at least 1.25 lakh persons to be in Patna on 2 Februrary, a day before the rally.”
Posters, banners and welcome gates have already been put up across the state.
“We have already created a ‘hawa’ for the rally. Publicity vans are moving across in all corners of the state and websites have been designed. Our punch line is ‘Waqt hai badlaav ka’ (It’s time for change) – for both the Centre and the state governments,” said Jaeya Mishra, AICC member in-charge of publicity for the event.
The additional reason
There is one more reason why the Congress is putting its heart and soul into the rally, but it isn’t really one about which leaders want to be quoted on record.
The rally is actually aimed not just at the BJP and JD(U), but also at ally RJD.
“An impressive rally at Gandhi Maidan will strengthen our bargaining power on the number of seats we contest under the Grand Alliance banner,” a senior Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity.