India’s grand opposition Congress party seems to be inflicted with conspicuous confusion with very little clarity on the direction it wants to move. Amidst its bid to arrest the sagging fortunes and improve its presence, the party is simultaneously conspiring for the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There is an old proverb: “One foot cannot stand on two boats.” And that is precisely what the Congress is doing. Can the Congress take on the ruling party when it itself is struggling to regain the space it ceded to the BJP and other regional parties in the last few years?
If the Congress has failed to stitch together an effective counter-alliance to the NDA, it is because of its refusal to give room to smaller but growing parties fearing further erosion in its shrinking base. As a result, not only did it miss the opportunity to be part of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Uttar Pradesh, it is facing alliance blues in other states as well. The classic case is of Sharad Pawar-led National Congress party (NCP), which has been steadfastly associated with the Congress, has chosen to go it alone in Gujarat even though the two parties have pledged to contest together in Maharashtra. There is no doubt that with NCP choosing to contest all the 26 parliamentary seats in Gujarat, there will be a division of votes, which will ultimately benefit the BJP.
In fact, it was Sharad Pawar who had first taken the initiative to form a “Mahagathbandhan” of opposition parties to take on the ruling alliance. But his idea could not materialise as the Congress was not ready to play second fiddle to some parties which had grown in stature. The Congress, which was wiped out from Delhi in both the assembly and parliamentary elections, lacked maturity in entering into any understanding with the Aam Aadmi Party which also wanted the alliance in both Punjab and Haryana besides Delhi. But the Congress, which snatched power from the BJP-SAD alliance in Punjab and lost ground to the BJP in Haryana, did not want to share space with AAP which was spreading its wings there. As a result, what we see is a loosely-knit alliance led by Congress party with smaller parties in some states.
It reflects very poorly on the leadership of the Congress, which is not sagacious enough to come out of its shadow. Congress president Rahul Gandhi should realise that his party is not in a position to command a premium on its value. Had he been sensible and could see the writing on the wall; he would have gone ahead to accommodate as many parties which still wanted a solid and credible opposition alliance? The problem with the Congress leadership is that it wants to have the cake and eat it too. That’s not only practical but impossible also.
If the NDA alliance has been largely successful, it is due to the open-heartedness of the principal party, the BJP, which has been careful in creating a non-disturbing environment for smaller and regional parties. While continuing to pursue its agenda of maximising its reach in states where it does not have much influence, the BJP has been wise enough to enter into an alliance with regional parties.
With the Congress not having the stomach to accommodate the interests of other parties, it would have been better had it gone alone with an aim to improve its reach and tally. The Congress, which recorded its worst performance in the last general elections bagging just 44 seats, could corner only 19.5 per cent of votes then. Before it recovered some ground by winning state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh last year, the Congress was only ruling Punjab and sharing power in Karnataka. The party showed some signs of recovery last year when elections to nine states – Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana – were held in 2018. Of the 1082 seats in these states, the Congress won 414 seats whereas the BJP won 355 seats.
The ideal strategy for Congress would have been to recoup and revitalise its organisation before going overboard with the aggressive approach of dislodging the Modi government. It has scored a self-goal by compromising with its prime objective of reviving the almost moribund party and simultaneously working to remove the present government. It is this confusion which has prevented it from allying with potential parties leading to three-cornered contests in several constituencies which is only going to help the BJP. In a nutshell, the present is tense and the future uncertain for the oldest political party.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)