Congress has decided to stay away from the ‘Third Front’ experiment mooted by some regional parties, including Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and TRS president K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) are making efforts to stitch together a 'non-Congress, non-BJP' front bringing together like-minded parties.
But sources in the Congress say that such talks are a result of West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee nursing prime ministerial ambitions, and TRS president KCR trying to fight the heat of incumbency in his state.
Many senior leaders in the Congress are of the opinion that most of the regional leaders will come around by election time but Congress cannot become a casualty of a tie-up where its organisation is further impacted.
"Everyone is free to pursue their agenda and ambition. KCR for four years considered Modi as the only leader and aligned with him. Now Congress has put heat on him and his party is taking a nose dive so he wants to create an alternative," Congress leader Randeep Surjewala told WION.
Though it targets KCR, Congress officially remains diplomatic on Mamata and maintains that both parties will resolve their differences to come together on issues of national importance.
However, Mamata and KCR have received support from regional players. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi told WION that since Congress has not taken the initiative, other parties are filling the vacuum. Even DMK has been contacted on this issue which has decided to discuss the proposal.
Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi spoke to KCR over phone on Monday and expressed support for the plan to float a Third Front-like formation. Former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has also extended support to the proposal.
Congress, for now, is focussing on nourishing the organisation amid fears that the party will wither away completely after humiliating losses in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland assembly elections. It is for this reason that Congress has kept away from joining the SP-BSP combine to fight the Phoolpur and Gorakhpur bypolls in Uttar Pradesh.
"Parties are free to contest but we will not withdraw our candidates from the fray," Surjewala said.
The idea, sources say, is to have a front which is led by the Grand Old Party. And Sonia Gandhi's invitation to leaders of opposition parties for a dinner on March 13 points to that, they say.
Several leaders have confirmed their attendance, a Congress leader said, declining to go into spcifics. However, he said Sonia Gandhi is keen to have all top opposition party leaders, including Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who is yet to confirm.