Congress' wise ways
After Karnataka, Congress has realised the vital role regional parties can play
Only a month has passed since the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections were declared on May 12. But, for the Congress Party, this has been a period of great learning about the dynamics of coalition politics. Rahul Gandhi-led Congress has become more sober and practical in dealing with regional parties as also with the smaller parties whom the Congress leadership did not take into account earlier. Rahul Gandhi is certainly a changed man now and he has realised that Congress has to enter into an alliance with the maximum number of anti-BJP parties to take on the might of the saffrons led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The post-Karnataka development is a metamorphosis for the dominant Congress leadership. It has always thought of itself as the natural party of governance and, even when it was not in power, the leaders tried to make use of the unity with the other parties to return to power on their own. There was no real respect for the other opposition parties whose help Congress took. This time, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and the other leaders of the party are going out of their way to woo the regional parties. Positively, Congress has come to the conclusion that it has to broaden the unity of the parties against BJP to the maximum extent. Only by preventing the division of the anti-BJP votes can the opposition expect to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party.
The by-election results have strengthened this belief and that has led to serious discussions about aligning with the regional parties in the upcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. All the senior leaders of Congress are talking to the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati about seat adjustments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan as also in the Chhattisgarh elections as a part of the national alliance that will emerge after the expected success of the Congress-BSP combine in the three states.
What is significant for the opposition unity efforts this time is that all the participants are talking in a positive tone and with respect. The question is not whether there are problems in seat adjustments – the issue is that this alliance is done in principle and, now, the follow-up will be done about seat sharing since both the parties are determined to defeat BJP in a united manner. Both Kamal Nath, the MP state Congress president, and the leader of the MP campaign committee, Jyotiraditya Scindia, have publicly said that this alliance with BSP will ensure the defeat of BJP in all the three states, not just in Madhya Pradesh. BSP has a vote share of 6 to 7 per cent in all these states and the addition of the BSP's bank to Congress in a period of acute anti-incumbency for the ruling BJP will be a blessing for Congress. At the grassroots level, there is excitement among the workers of both the parties. Both Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati have so far approached the issue of alliance in a spirit of accommodation.
It is not only the big regional parties like BSP and Samajwadi Party, Congress is now taking note of smaller parties which are based in local pockets. In MP, Congress has begun talks with Gondwana Ganatantra Party, influential in some tribal areas. The state Congress leadership has had preliminary discussions and the outcome has been positive. Rahul Gandhi now seems ready to use every single anti-BJP platform to the advantage of the opposition parties as also the smaller parties which are serious in opposing BJP in the 2019 elections.
As of now, the Congress President is set to have discussions with some smaller parties in Maharashtra along with NCP. Then, in Jharkhand, a pre-poll understanding has been negotiated with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. The situation is favourable in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, with most of the anti-BJP parties ready to join hands. This has been possible because of the changed attitude of the Congress president. In UP, Congress is ready to be the third party after SP and BSP. Similarly, SP president Akhilesh Yadav has clarified his position by stating that in the interests of the opposition unity against BJP, his SP will not mind surrendering a few seats to BSP if that is needed for a successful opposition alliance. This is the real spirit that should be at the core of any opposition alliance.
For Congress, however, the real test will be in the states. They will not be inclined to give space to Congress for growth but at the same time, Congress also will like to expand in those states where the party is not in power. In these states, the model suggested by the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee can be applied. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha, the regional parties are in power and they are all likely to fight in majority seats during the Lok Sabha elections. Here, Congress will fight on its own; but, in some seats where BJP is very strong and the divided opposition may lead to BJP victory, some adjustments can be worked out. The process is difficult but, efforts can be made if the regional parties are serious about defeating BJP.
For the opposition parties, the present period is most favourable in broadening the base of an anti-BJP unity. Congress has taken the right initiative, SP, BSP, and NCP are also showing accommodating attitude. This is the time to sit and discuss a pre-poll minimum common programme. The Left parties are most consistent in opposing BJP. They can contribute effectively to the preparation of a viable pro-people CMP. That will be the basis on which the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign, will have to be run. BJP has massive funds and resources. The opposition has to combat that through organisational unity at the grassroots level and programmes for the common people.
(The author is Editor-in-Chief,IPA. The views expressed are strictly personal)