Will Congress End Up Helping Narendra Modi?
April 18, 2019
Did the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party decide to help Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi?
Seems so by their behaviour. After four months of intense negotiations the alliance prospects between them are bleak. Every pre poll survey has predicted landslide for Modi in Delhi if Congress-AAP votes split.
I blame Congress more in this mess, as Arvind Kejriwal was the first to approach Rahul Gandhi for this alliance. But Congress was not able to finalise anything due to internal differences. Sheila Dikshit is not able to forget her defeat in 2015 and is against the alliance. The group under the leadership of Ajay Maken was keen to befriend Kejriwal. Some of the Congress leaders are worried about Delhi assembly elections in 2020 which is important for both the parties. They fear AAP will take advantage of this alliance and sideline Congress.
It was for Congress President Rahul Gandhi to intervene.He failed utterly. Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar tried to mediate, but with little success. Now Kejriwal has turned stubborn. He wants an alliance in Haryana and Chandigarh along with 7 seats of Delhi, which makes the situation worse. This could be the repeat of the Prakash Ambedkar episode in Maharashtra which damages both parties.
This is not the first time Rahul Gandhi and Congress has messed up the alliance with opposition parties. He should have learned the art from Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah. Immediately after BJP’s defeat in the assembly elections in December, Shah realised BJP may not get majority in the Lok Sabha elections and understood the need to patch up with alliance partners. He took the initiative, convinced Janata Dal-United and Shiv Sena. All the differences with Akali Dal were sorted out too. Shah conceded more seats to JD-U in Bihar even though BJP had won 22 seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Unfortunately Rahul Gandhi has failed to learn from his adversaries. Opposition parties declared their Mahagathbandhan plan at Karnataka Chief Minister’s swearing-in ceremony. Rahul-Sonia stood on the dias holding hands with opposition leaders. Photo opportunities are important, but not enough to tackle problems in practical politics. Congress failed to work out an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh after this show in Bengaluru. Finally, they ended up forming the government in MP with SP-BSP support.
Obviously, Mayawati was angry and refused to tie up with the Congress. Sonia Gandhi could have convinced her, but the ‘National Party’ syndrome stopped her from doing so. The old guard of the Congress still behaves like zamindars and refuse to accept the strength of opposition leaders. On the other hand opposition leaders cannot forget history and trust Congress. In 1996-97 Congress President Sitaram Kesri had withdrawn support from the opposition led government and in the process broken the promise of long term support.
In UP, the situation aggravated when Mayawati and Samajwadi party leader Akhilesh Yadav refused to accept the Congress party as a partner in alliance. In West Bengal Mamata Bannerjee was never keen to ally with Congress. Odisha Chief Minister Navin Patnaik has always kept equal distance from Congress and BJP. In Gujarat Sharad Pawar’s NCP refused to tie up with the Congress. In Maharashtra BJP-SS alliance placed the Congress-NCP on the back foot. Arithmetic is done, but chemistry is missing. Here Prakash Ambedkar refused to have a pact with the Congress putting at least six of Congress-NCP seats in danger.
The Congress party should have acted smart in this situation. Knowing the importance of this election Rahul Gandhi should have planned strategy with a large heart. Instead he challenged Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Mamta Banerjee and sent sister Priyanka Gandhi to UP to boost the morale of Congress workers by contesting the elections. The Congress will definitely harm the SP-BSP in fa ew constituencies for sure.
Rahul Gandhi’s supporters will argue that Congress has it’s own interests to protect. Why should the party sacrifice everything for the opposition? This is partially true, but then politics is an art of possibilities which Rahul Gandhi doesn’t understand and Modi-Shah are masters of it! Plus the Congress has lost sheen and strength in the last two decades. Why should the regional leaders take it seriously?
In most of the states Congress is in direct competition with the opposition parties. Congress leaders feel if they accept a secondary role today the party will be harmed in the long run. Congress claims success in cobbling alliance in Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Jharkhand. But the fact is Congress plays second fiddle in Tamil Nadu and really had no choice but to ally with the Jharkhand Multi Morcha in Jharkhand. In 2014, BJP had won 11 of 14 seats here due to the split in votes of the opposition .
The Congress party now blames the opposition for helping Modi. But being the oldest party why couldn’t it put differences aside? Everyone knows, low index of opposition unity will help BJP directly. In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat BJP won most of the Lok Sabha seats in 2014 along with UP and Bihar. The Congress is not able to stop BJP where both are in a direct fight. This situation has already helped BJP to underline the TINA (There is No Alternative) factor. Indira Gandhi exploited differences amongst opposition leaders during her time and now Modi is doing the same.
The Congress cannot take a high moral ground on secularism. Every time an opposition leader reprimands Rahul Gandhi, Congress trolls accuse him of helping Modi and betraying secularism. People will not digest it because the Congress record on this front is horrible. Congress workers betrayed the secular fabric of India during 1984, 1992-93, 2002 by sitting idle. When the Sangh brigade attacked the Babri Masjid, Congress Prime Minister Narasimha Rao did nothing. In fact, Rajiv Gandhi gave a boost to the Ram temple movement with the Shah Bano Case fiasco and by allowing Shilanyas. In Maharashtra, Congress Leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil is helping the BJP openly in this election. Prominent Congress leaders have defected to BJP for selfish motives. Congress is weak on ground and lacks a proper election machinery.
Pre poll surveys tell us one thing: the number of non-BJP and non-Congress parties will be higher in the next Lok Sabha. In 2014 the BJP got an unprecedented verdict. The days of alliance politics are here once again. Regional parties will play a significant role after the election verdict on May 23.
The Congress refuses to accept this and displays characteristic arrogance. Congress insiders tell me, the party will barely reach the 100 mark in these polls. So Congress veterans have advised Rahul Gandhi not to waste energy on this election and concentrate on the revival of the party. But 5 years is a long period in politics. One can’t focus on the future by ignoring the present. If Rahul Gandhi refuses to understand this he will be helping Modi recapture power again and again.
First published in The Citizen.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.