While the Opposition has successfully convened the two meetings, the leadership issue is yet to be taken
Why did the Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi consciously keep a low profile at the Opposition unity meeting in Bangalore or earlier in Patna? Insiders say that it was a calculated decision. Congress decided two things after the Party failed to unite the Opposition. One is to play a low profile in the Opposition meetings. The second is to climb down from its high pedestal and concede that all partners are equal. The million dollars question is why the Gandhis have adopted a "we are equals" position in the Bengaluru gathering.
But more importantly, even before the meeting, Congress President Mallikharjun KHarge had clarified that his Party was not in the race to stake for prime ministership this time. So far, Congress has been living in its past glory. The allies also resented the big-brother attitude of the Congress. They anticipated that Congress would push for leadership and claim that Rahul should become the prime minister. This was a calculated decision of the Party (read as the Gandhi family), or Kharge would not have made that statement. It has created a positive atmosphere as most of the partners had been anti-Congress at one time or another other.
The political compulsions make Congress adopt it. Also, the declining Congress finally realized that the Party had lost its primacy in an era where the Regional satraps had a regional stronghold over their fiefdoms. With Rahul's future unclear and what the Supreme could say about his disqualification, the Gandhi family is not keen to project anyone. So as a goodwill measure, the Party said it would not seek primacy.
Sonia had initially planned to retire from politics at 70 but could not do so due to political challenges. Over the past two years, she has taken a less active role in politics due to her declining health. While she has minimized her participation in election rallies, she attended the Bengaluru meeting to serve as a unifying force for various partners. Also, expecting regional leaders to work under Rahul may be too optimistic. Leaders like Mamata Banerjee would not favour it.
Secondly, The Gandhi family is bidding time. It needs the full strength of the Opposition to help them counter the BJP. Suppose the apex court verdict goes in Rahul's favour in the disqualification case, it will be an optimistic scenario. Gandhi's legal team hopes to nullify the ban by overturning the decision or reducing his sentence to under two years. If he wins the court case, Rahul could challenge
Modi in the 2024 polls. He could always campaign for the alliance if the Court upheld the lower Court's decision, and Rahul would get sympathy.
Thirdly, the family has always shown a reluctance to accept positions. They prefer to be the power behind the throne. This 'renunciation' went down well with the Public. In 2004, Sonia declined the post of prime minister.
It was the same with Rahul Gandhi. He refused in an AICC meeting in Hyderabad (2005), declaring he was not ready to take on a job when the Party was clamouring to give him a post in the AICC. But later, he became the Congress President, only to resign after the 2019 debacle. But taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2024 will be a formidable challenge even for a united opposition.
The Congress is the largest Party in the opposition bloc with 80 M.P.s (49 in Lok Sabha and 31 in Rajya Sabha). The Party is in power in four states -- Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh. It is a member of the ruling coalitions in Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and Jharkhand.
The Opposition meeting looks good on paper and is an improvement from the Patna meeting. The 26 partners in the forum had 242 M.P.s. While nine of them had no representation in Lok Sabha. Similarly, 25 of the 38 parties which attended the NDA meeting on the same day in Delhi have no M.P.s in the current Lok Sabha. While the Opposition has successfully convened the two meetings, the leadership issue is yet to be taken.
So is the Prime Ministerial face, as the partners have decided that that comes after the elections. Whichever Party wins the highest number would stake a claim.
Despite not holding any official position, Rahul is now a prominent Opposition coalition member along with his mother, Sonia and Party chief Kharge. Suppose Sonia becomes the new coalition's President, Rahul will still make the decisions on behalf of the Party whether he contests or not. The Party is demoralized after losing the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Therefore, winning in 2024 is a must for Congress. After the recent 'Bharat Jodo Yatra,' Rahul's image improved.
Congress must address its internal conflicts as the elections approach, especially in states like Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana. Securing victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is possible, but resolving these disputes will be crucial. The Bangalore meeting was a step forward. Each partner should hold the meeting in rotation. The future is uncertain, but if the Opposition coalition succeeds, it could greatly benefit Congress.
(The writer is a well-known columnist. Views expressed are personal)