As Narendra Modi continues his ascendancy with impressive victories in the by-elections, Congress insiders are disturbed that party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi failed to understand the ground reality, reports Anita Katyal.
When the results of the by-elections in four states -- Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal -- were declared on Wednesday, Narendra Modi's prime ministerial ambitions received a further boost while those of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar received a blow.
Led by Modi, Gujarat's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party emerged victorious in all six seats --two Lok Sabha and four assembly constituencies -- where elections were held on Sunday.
On the other hand, the ruling Janata Dal-United in Bihar suffered a crushing defeat in the Maharajganj Lok Sabha seat which was won by a massive margin by Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Gujarat Chief Minister Modi is pitching himself as a contender for the prime minister's post after the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Nitish Kumar has not positioned himself openly for the top post, but it is no secret that he nurses prime ministerial ambitions.
The antipathy between Modi and Kumar is well-known. Although their parties share power in Bihar, Kumar has made it clear that he will not accept Modi as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's prime ministerial candidate.
While a victorious Modi will mount pressure anew on the BJP to declare him as the prime ministerial candidate after Wednesday's by-election results, Nitish Kumar will find it increasingly difficult to distance himself from the saffron party.
The two NDA allies -- the BJP and the JD-U -- have been involved in several slanging matches in recent weeks on this issue.
A few months ago, this war of words intensified to such an extent that it appeared the ruling JD-U-BJP alliance in Bihar would unravel. But both sides backed off from such a split.
While Modi wants the BJP leadership to declare him as the party's prime ministerial candidate, the party has, so far, desisted from doing so.
The stock response from the BJP has been that it has a battery of senior leaders who are capable of occupying the top post and a decision about the final nominee will be announced at an appropriate time.
An impatient Modi could make it difficult for the party leadership to delay the announcement. The BJP's national executive meeting in Goa this weekend will provide Modi a perfect platform to push his case through.
The Gujarat strongman will get ample support from the party rank and file which has been pressing the leadership to brush aside Nitish Kumar's objections and declare Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate at the earliest.
Modi loyalists say Nitish Kumar opposes Modi as his candidature would improve the BJP's tally in the next general election.
Nitish Kumar, the Modi loyalists say, wants his Gujarat counterpart to stay out of the fray of national politics so that the BJP's tally is limited to 120 Lok Sabha seat. This would automatically improve the tally of regional parties.
In such a scenario, Nitish Kumar believes he could emerge as a prime ministerial candidate.
After Wednesday's by-election result, Nitish Kumar will have to rethink his strategy. Although the Maharajganj Lok Sabha seat is a RJD stronghold and the JD-U candidate's defeat was not unexpected, the result could signal Lalu Prasad's political revival.
The 'Lalu factor' will increase Kumar's dependence on the BJP, making it difficult for him to severe the JD-U's ties with its NDA ally. Nitish Kumar needs the BJP to garner upper caste votes in the next election.
Although he is being wooed by the Congress, Nitish Kumar has nothing to gain by aligning with that party as it has virtually no presence in Bihar.
The BJP, on the other hand, is gaining ground in Bihar and could do better if it contested the next assembly election by itself. Reports from Bihar claim the BJP scuttled the JD-U campaign in Maharajganj.
The Congress has emerged as the biggest loser in these by-elections. It lost all the seats it held in Gujarat and polled only 20,000-odd votes in the Bihar by-election. The party's sole victory came in Yavatmal in Maharashtra.
These by-elections once again highlighted that the Congress presence in Bihar and Gujarat is almost negligible. The Congress may no longer have the upper hand vis-a-vis Lalu Prasad should it enter an alliance with the RJD.
While Congress spokespersons maintain that the by-election results did not reflect the mood of the nation, party insiders assert that Wednesday's dismal electoral performance is a matter of deep concern.
It comes at a time when the Congress is preparing for assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which will be followed by next year's Lok Sabha election.
Congress insiders are disturbed that Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi failed to read the ground reality in Bihar.
Jitendra Swami, the Congress candidate in Maharajganj, who was reportedly Rahul Gandhi's s choice, had been jailed in a murder case while his wife is about to be charge-sheeted in a fraud case.
Even Gandhi's choice of campaigners was off the mark. Instead of deploying local leaders, he flew in junior ministers like Sachin Pilot, R P N Singh and Jitendra Singh to campaign in Maharajganj.