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regular-article-logo Monday, 22 April 2024

INDIA shaken, not stirred: Congress underplays concerns over ‘implosion’ within alliance

While the Congress was quick to describe Mamata as a pillar of the INDIA alliance, senior Opposition leaders argued that her positioning may be driven more by local political imperatives rather than be a sign of betrayal

Sanjay K. Jha New Delhi Published 25.01.24, 05:17 AM
Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee after the meeting of the Opposition parties in Bangalore on July 18 last year.

Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee after the meeting of the Opposition parties in Bangalore on July 18 last year. File picture.

Clearly needing to counter adverse speculation that all is not well in the INDIA coalition, top Congress leaders have argued that powerful or entrenched partners in states will naturally dictate terms when it comes to Lok Sabha seats. Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s declaration that Trinamul will contest the 2024 parliamentary elections alone should not be seen by INDIA partners or the electorate as a sign of implosion because “strategic compulsions” may at times override the logic of coalitions.

While the Congress was quick to describe Mamata as a pillar of the INDIA alliance, senior Opposition leaders argued that her positioning may be driven more by local political imperatives rather than be a sign of betrayal. There is an assessment that the BJP could gain if the Congress-Left vacated the anti-Mamata space and, therefore, a three-cornered contest is not entirely undesirable in the larger interest of giving the BJP a better fight in Bengal.

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While Mamata was not willing to accommodate the Left, it is also true that the Congress is not ready to accept the two seats that Trinamul is offering of a total of 42 in the state. At the same time, Congress and other alliance leaders continue to consider Mamata an intrinsic part of INDIA, notwithstanding her announcement to go it alone. “Every state will have a different model,” NCP leader Supriya Sule said, fondly describing Mamata as “Didi who is loved by all”.

A similar dilemma has cropped up in Punjab where the central leaderships of both AAP and the Congress are alive to the possibly adverse consequences of the ruling and main Opposition parties coming together to contest elections and making it a direct battle with the BJP rather than a multi-cornered one. While the state unit of both the parties are not ready to yield an inch, the overriding factor is the undesirability of leaving the entire Opposition space to the BJP or even the Akali Dal, which could scurry back to the BJP after the elections.

The assessment is that the BJP is not in a position to win a single seat in Punjab and there was no harm in polarising the state between AAP and the Congress. Though AAP and Congress will have an understanding in Delhi, sharing seats through a four-three formula, they are poised to fight a bitter battle in Punjab. Chief minister Bhagwant Mann on Wednesday declared he was unwilling to make any seat concessions to the Congress, claiming APP will win all the 13 of the state’s seats.

Though such a muddled and apparently messy seat-sharing table makes for poor optics ahead of a key national election, INDIA leaders assert there exists “tactical logic” behind some of the decisions which apparently convey a breakdown on seats among INDIA partners.

Bihar worry

The real concern emanates from Bihar where speculation over yet another somersault by chief minister Nitish Kumar is dominating the political discourse. RJD and Congress leaders deny any such possibility in formal interactions but their tone changes in off-the-record conversations. Nobody is in a position to firmly rule out the eruption of a sudden crisis in Bihar as a result of yet another political somersault by Nitish.

One INDIA leader went so far as to tell The Telegraph: “We will be surprised if Nitish Kumar doesn’t go back to the BJP. He obviously came to this side with prime-ministerial ambitions. But there were objections to making him the convenor of the INDIA group. Then Mallikarjun Kharge became the chairperson of the group. Nitish now is cynical about his prospects in the Opposition camp and his ties with the RJD too are always strained no matter what his or the RJD’s public posturing.”

The language of JDU spokesperson and Nitish confidant K.C. Tyagi has suddenly changed; he has not only started finding multiple faults with the Congress, he even threw hints of displeasure about the way Nitish has been treated in INDIA. While many parties in the Opposition alliance nurture reservations about Nitish because he has been a staunch BJP backer in the past and has a history of switching sides without any moral or ideological qualms, the JDU believes Nitish is the pivot around which INDIA was conceived and developed but that was not appreciated enough by other parties, particularly the Congress.

There are problems in Uttar Pradesh too, even as seat-sharing talks are proceeding smoothly in states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. While there is a strong desire in the Congress to rope in Mayawati, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav is averse to the idea. The Congress believes the BJP, which has over 50 per cent votes, cannot be defeated without the BSP, but serious efforts have not been made so far to woo Mayawati into INDIA.

A Congress leader said: “There is a conspiracy to scuttle Mayawati’s induction into INDIA by some leaders of SP and Congress. Rahul Gandhi is on his Nyay Yatra now and only Sonia Gandhi can resolve this issue. If the BSP fights separately, the BJP can still win 60-70 seats in the state. If the BSP joins the coalition, the BJP’s tally can be whittled down by 20-30 seats. That’s the key battlefield none of the top INDIA leaders are seriously working on.”

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