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Congress faces tough INDIA bloc equation after defeat

Dec 04, 2023 05:36 AM IST

For three months now, there’s been little progress on efforts to give the Opposition grouping against the BJP some shape and structure

New Delhi The Congress party’s electoral rout in the Hindi heartland states in the latest round of assembly polls has backfired on its strategy of deferring seat-sharing talks for the coming Lok Sabha elections with other members of the INDIA bloc, with even its leadership of the Opposition alliance in the making likely to come under question.

The INDIA bloc leaders met in Mumbai on September 1. (HT)
The INDIA bloc leaders met in Mumbai on September 1. (HT)

The non-Congress constituents of the bloc are furious about the Congress’s delay in seat talks, and some of them have also started questioning whether the Congress is the “weakest link” of the coalition -- especially given its showing in the three states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, all direct contests with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

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For three months now, there’s been little progress on efforts to give the Opposition grouping against the BJP some shape and structure. The Congress didn’t just stall seat-sharing talks in anticipation of a good performance in this round of assembly elections that could put it at an advantage in any negotiations, but also refused to have any meaningful seat-sharing arrangements with opposition parties in the three states.

Now, with its standing dented, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has called a meeting of the bloc on December 6, after a long gap. The last coordination meeting was called on September 13. Opposition parties are questioning the Congress’s ability to take on the BJP, and suggested that it allow regional parties to call the shots in their respective states.

A senior leader from the Trinamool Congress who asked not to be named said: “The Congress should leave it to regional parties to take the lead against the BJP. While parties such as the Trinamool Congress, DMK, AAP, JD(U) and RJD had been repeatedly successful in thwarting the BJP’s electoral advances, the Congress has failed to do so.”

There was also recrimination of the Congress for the delay.

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Another Opposition leader, who asked not to be named, said: “We were repeatedly telling the Congress to quickly finalise the candidates. The Mumbai resolution also said that ticket distribution should be done at the earliest. But the Congress delayed it.” His reference is to the September 1 meeting of the bloc in Mumbai where it was decided to hold the seat sharing talks at the earliest.

Opposition leaders also pointed out that while it was decided to hold the first joint meeting of the allies in Bhopal on October 2, Congress’s Madhya Pradesh chief Kamal Nath scuttled it.

“The Congress thought they will arm twist us after the elections,” quipped another Opposition leader on condition of anonymity.

Bauchander Nagarajan, a political analyst said the alliance “ is strongest where regional parties are strong” and said a partnership could work in “Tamil Nadu, Bihar or West Bengal” but that the Congress would have to “latch on regional parties” and sort out its issues in “ north India”. He added that the party sought to “mimic the BJP” and also raise non-issues such as “Adani”.

Not everyone is convinced the Congress is irrelevant in the bloc.

“It is the only Opposition party that has voters from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. It is still the largest Opposition party in both Houses of Parliament,” said a Left leader.

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But some other Opposition leaders were categorical that the question of leadership of the group is now “open”. In the past two years, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and BRS leader K Chandrashekar Rao, all tried to forge third fronts minus the Congress. None succeeded. ”A third front has low possibility, but now it’s almost certain that regional satraps will flex their muscles in the INDIA group,” a senior Opposition leader said.

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