Old fears of domineering Congress return

Amulya Ganguli

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ven the limited signs of a revival of the Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have revived old apprehensions about the 133-year-old party’s penchant for dominance in the years immediately after Independence.

It is not only the BJP that is so uneasy about its main adversary’s political clout that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spends much of his time criticising the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and saying that four years of his rule were better than four decades of the Congress’s reign, but even some of the latter’s own allies have been targeting the Grand Old Party, although most people will say it no longer qualifies for that title.

In the context of Modi’s tirades against the ‘naamdar’ people of the dynasty and the unease voiced by the Congress’s allies, few would believe that the party was down in the dumps only four years ago when it was reduced to its lowest-ever Lok Sabha tally of 44 seats and even one of the Congress’s own members thought that the party was suffering from an “existential crisis”.

[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” class=”” width=””]Will it lead the charge of the light brigade?

It is obvious that, if the Congress wins in the three heartland states and also Telangana, it will pitchfork the party into the frontlines of the political stage, enhancing the possibility it leading the charge against the BJP in 2019. [/box]

In contrast, the Congress is now seen to be emerging as a major challenger to the ruling BJP in the three heartland states with the distinct possibility of pipping it to the post in at least two of them and even winning in Telangana. It is obvious that such an achievement will pitchfork the Congress into the frontlines of the political stage, enhancing the possibility it leading the charge against the BJP in 2019.

The first non-BJP party to be unnerved by this revival was the BSP, which broke away from seat-sharing talks with the Congress and decided to contest on its own in Madhya Pradesh and in alliance with a breakaway Congress outfit in Chhattisgarh. Now, the BSP’s partner in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP), which is contesting 51 seats in Madhya Pradesh, has also attacked the Congress, saying it “doesn’t give us any importance”. Earlier, Mayawati, too, had accused the Congress of being “arrogant”.

Given these strains in the relations between the Congress and its supposed allies, it now appears unlikely that there will be any understanding of the SP and the BSP with the Congress in UP. As known, it was the SP-BSP alliance which defeated the BJP in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections and also in Kairana, where the tie-up included the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Congress.

Unless the Congress is able to mend its fences with the SP and BSP, it will be difficult to achieve the Opposition’s pipe-dream of forming a so-called ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) against the BJP. A failure on this count may not matter much in UP, where the Congress no longer has much influence outside the Amethi and Rae Bareli constituencies.

Even then, the party will be severely discomfited if it does not get SP and BSP support in these two pocket boroughs of the dynasty from where Rahul and Sonia Gandhi fight elections. Besides, any hint that the Congress’s “arrogance” tends to alienate its allies cannot be helpful to the party at the national level and is bound to be exploited by the BJP.

Although the Congress is now a shadow of its former self, it remains, by far, the No. 1 party in the country in popular perception, even if its presence in such states as West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Tamil Nadu remains marginal. It is the party’s responsibility, therefore, to take the lead in healing whatever rift there is among the “secular” parties lest the divisions among them play into BJP hands.

It is now widely recognised that the ‘mahagathbandhan’ is the only answer to effectively confronting the BJP. As the success of such an arrangement in Bihar in 2015 proved, it is possible to stop the Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut in its tracks. The present dissenting voices in the secular camp, mainly that of the BSP, have to be persuaded, therefore, to look beyond their immediate caste-based electoral concerns to keep the BJP at bay.

To achieve this objective, the first imperative is to shun the opportunism of the kind displayed by the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, where it broke the ‘mahagathbandhan’ to align with the BJP. If the Janata Dal (United)’s grouse was that it was being overshadowed by the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the BSP’s fears are of losing much of its Dalit base to the Congress if an understanding between the two parties lasts for any length of time because of the latter’s manipulative record.

Much depends, of course, on the reliability of the leaders, especially of a major party. It was Jawaharlal Nehru’s promise to Tamils that Hindi will not be imposed on non-Hindi-speaking citizens which defused the volatile situation in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s. It is up to Rahul and Sonia Gandhi to assure its present and would-be partners that the Congress will play fair even by bending over backwards on occasion.

(The author is a senior journalist)