New Delhi: As Bihar prepares for its last phase of polls, many Congress leaders say these elections will be more of a confidence-building exercise for a party that was virtually absent in the state and it should win around 20-30 seats in the 243-member Assembly.
Those who have taken part in the campaign for the Oct 21-Nov 20 polls say initially the party was expecting to win 50 seats, but they have now scaled down their expectations for various reasons.
"The basic idea is to gain the confidence of the people that the Congress is back in Bihar to protect their interests. Though the people of Bihar are shining everywhere in the country, people are not shining within the state. The purpose is to infuse confidence that the Congress is there to stand by them," party general secretary BK Hariprasad told a news agency.
Hariprasad, who headed the screening committee for selection of candidates and has mostly been in Bihar since the party announced its nominees, said the possibility of a hung Assembly could not be ruled out.
A senior Congress leader said: "We will definitely win 20 to 30 seats but the number can go up if voting is not polarised along caste lines."
Congress leaders say while shortcomings in the selection of candidates is one of the reasons why the party would not achieve its desired potential, they blame the absence of charismatic leaders at the state level and the poor shape of the party`s organisational structure.
The party had sought to revive its traditional Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit (BMD) support base. Its leaders said the party gave tickets to 47 Muslim candidates.
But a party leader said: "More tickets should have been given to people from the OBC (Other Backward Classes) category who constitute about 32 percent of the population.
"Also, an impression went around that some people with connections and money had been able to get tickets at the cost of genuine party workers."
He said the campaign was being managed by central leaders as the state Congress unit had not been able to get its act together. "Leaders from AICC (All India Congress Committee) are coordinating the election campaign," he said.
Party leaders also say the elections spread over a month had worked to the advantage of Nitish Kumar who was able to personally visit most of the constituencies.
"Had elections been held in a shorter span, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have benefited as they have more campaigners. However, the six-phase polls have been beneficial to Nitish Kumar," a Congress leader said.
Party leaders also say there are many constituencies where the Congress flag has not been seen for almost 10 years and the party has a lot of ground to cover. The Congress, which had a tie-up with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the 2005 assembly polls, had contested 51 seats and won only nine. And it is certainly confident of an improved tally as the party has gone it alone this time.
It organised helicopter visits by its leaders to almost all constituencies. Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi has also held election rallies in all phases of polling held so far.
Shakeel Ahmed, a former Bihar Congress chief, said the traditional vote base had started gravitating towards the party as these voters had dissociated themselves from the RJD.
"Party workers are feeling excited as they are carrying their own flag. They did not feel good when the party was in alliance with the RJD," Ahmed said.
Party leaders said while Nitish Kumar enjoyed a positive image, his Janata Dal-United (JD-U) MLAs faced anti-incumbency factor om their constituencies. They claimed BJP MLAs were also facing "anti-incumbency" and that party`s tally would go down from the 2005 Assembly polls.
In the last polls, the JD-U won 88 seats, the BJP won 55 and the RJD 54.