The Congress not only grapples with the formidable challenge posed by the BJP but also navigates the maze of ambitious regional power players within the alliance. Leaders such as Nitish Kumar, Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, and Arvind Kejriwal, each harbouring aspirations beyond their regional bastions, pose additional challenges to the Congress’ dream of returning to power at the Centre.
Established only a few months ago after negotiations that began in April and two meetings in Patna and Bengaluru under the Congress leadership, with the aim of thwarting the BJP’s bid for a third consecutive term in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the fledgling INDIA bloc is grappling with internal discord.
Fellow Opposition members are wielding knives to assail the Congress and undermine its influence within the 26-party Opposition alliance, Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).
The schism within the coalition unfolded as the intricacies of seat allocation became a focal point during the five State Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram, termed semifinal to the 2024 Parliamentary election.
The alliance parties engaged in deft manoeuvers, transforming the seat-sharing negotiations into a high-stake game of political brinkmanship. As the rift deepened, the coalition found itself navigating through the labyrinth of conflicting ambitions and aspirations, adding an intricate layer to the already complex dynamics of electoral alliances.
Akhilesh Yadav, the chief of the Samajwadi Party, emerged as the first Opposition leader to unleash a verbal fusillade against the Congress, a sentiment that found resonance in the voices of both JD(U) president Nitish Kumar and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, who didn’t shy away from, hurling rhetorical punches at the Congress - India’s oldest grand party, now relegated to the sidelines after decades long tenure in power at the Centre.
“We were assured that six seats will be given to us. If we had known that there was no alliance of the INDIA bloc (of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress) in Madhya Pradesh for the Assembly election, then we would not have sent our people to hold discussions with the Congress. If the Congress continues to behave like this, then who will trust them?” asked Akhilesh.
The architect behind the effort to bring together Opposition parties, Nitish, acknowledged for the first time that progress has been sluggish within the INDIA Opposition bloc.
“There are Assembly elections in five States. The Congress party is more interested in those. We were all working together to take forward the Congress party (alliance), but they are not worried about all this right now. They are busy with the five State elections. So, after the State polls, they themselves will call everyone,” Nitish said at a rally organised by the CPI called ‘BJP Hatao, Desh Bachao (Remove BJP, Save Country)’ in Patna.
Omar said, “All is not well with INDIA alliance. Some internal squabbles, which should not have been there, can be seen, especially in the four five States where elections are being held. We have seen how the Samajwadi Party and the Congress are fighting each other. Both are saying that they will contest all the seats in UP. This is not good for INDIA alliance. Maybe after these State elections, we will meet again and will try to work together.”
Demonstrating astute political acumen, the Congress, up to this point, has tactically avoided getting embroiled in the intensifying skirmish. Instead, it is directing its energies and resources toward a careful strategy designed to broaden its territorial influence.
Winning or successfully retaining the political bastions of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, (which the party rules) coupled with the strategic capture of Madhya Pradesh from the BJP’s grasp, would not just be a feather in the Congress’ cap, it would be a resounding triumph, a seismic shift capable of injecting newfound vigour into the party’s veins, improving its importance in INDIA.
This is why the Congress has been cautious about not allowing INDIA alliance partners to establish a presence in Madhya Pradesh. There is a resolute determination within the Congress camp not to cede even an inch of its political bastion.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress formed the Government in MP by winning 114 seats, just one short of reaching the majority mark. The Bahujan Samaj Party got two seats, the Samajwadi Party won one seat, and four seats went to independents then.
Nevertheless, Kamal Nath’s leadership tenure proved to be a precarious balancing act in governance. Despite initially holding to power firmly, the strings of authority became vulnerable to the BJP’s adept poaching strategies, ultimately resulting in the downfall of the Congress-led Government. Subsequently, the BJP returned to power.
The Congress attempted to convey a message to Akhilesh and other regional parties, emphasising that the electoral battle in MP is primarily between the BJP and the Congress. The argument put forth is that any additional party, supposedly lacking significant grassroots support, would predominantly split the anti-BJP votes, thereby providing an advantage to the BJP.
Congress’ Supriya Shrinate said, “When elections are held, tussle over tickets is a natural thing. Everyone feels that the ticket should be given to the strongest contestant. As of now, the challenges and dissent will persist until a consensus is reached on the seat-sharing formula. Until that moment, our reporting on ‘he said, she said’ will continue.”
The Congress’s efforts to maintain undisputed leadership over the INDIA alliance partners have regrettably proven to be an elusive aspiration, given that both the SP and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are contesting in many seats in MP.
The grand old party not only grapples with the formidable challenge posed by the BJP but also navigates the maze of ambitious regional power players within the alliance. Leaders such as Nitish, Akhilesh, Mamata Banerjee, and Kejriwal, each harbouring aspirations beyond their regional bastions, pose additional challenges to the Congress’ dream of returning to power at the Centre and maintaining unity within the alliance to deliver a robust counter to the BJP in 2024.
The looming complexity of divvying up the political pie among the diverse and ambitious coalition partners poses the most significant hurdle, fuelling the potential peril of disintegration of the INDIA bloc ahead of the final showdown.
The path forward is fraught with challenges, marked by the acknowledgment that when going alone, the Congress and regional parties find themselves overshadowed by the colossal presence of the BJP, a political juggernaut bolstered by the formidable leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Confronted with this political behemoth, the Congress and regional parties feel compelled to navigate the landscape of alliance politics for their survival.
There is a tacit acknowledgment that relying solely on alliance strength may not be enough to confront the BJP’s supremacy and stop Modi from securing a third consecutive term in power.
This is evident from the 2019 general elections, where Modi’s BJP-led alliance secured 37 per cent of the votes, winning an impressive 303 out of the 543 seats.
Maintaining cohesion within the India coalition and securing a leading role will pose a formidable challenge for the Congress until the results of the elections in five State are out on December 3.
(The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer)