Being a national party, Congress provides luxury to its leader Rahul Gandhi to remain tough nut to crack for the regional satraps like Lalu, Nitish, Mulayam, Mamata etc
By Asit Manohar
When the Narendra Modi government announced demonetization on November 8, the opposition including a large section of the Modi supporters was stunned as no one had any hint that such a strike on black money, counterfeit and illegal currency was coming forward. It gave an opportunity to the opposition to come together and fight the causes of the common man who were forced to queue outside banks and ATMs for their own money. The opposition leaders jibe about the ‘economic emergency’ was acceptable as it was against the promise of the RBI Governor printed on the currency notes that was nullified by the Prime Minister’s single announcement.
However, very soon the exercise became a political stunt and each leader criticizing Modi for demonetization started taking leap over his rivals who may become a prominent threat to them in their bid to lead the opposition in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But, this gimmick became visible to the people of India when the opposition parties particularly Left, Trinmool Congress, Congress and other strong regional parties decided to celebrate ‘black Day’ on November 28th separately rather doing it in a united manner. This step of the opposition parties clearly indicated that they were more concerned to showcase their ability to pitch themselves as a prominent leader to the whole opposition rather connecting with the problems they showcased before going for the ‘Black Day’ celebration over the demonetization.
However, before moving forward, we need to ask why these regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Pawar etc. decided to come separately rather queue behind the Congress party as they did while protesting over the demonetization outside the parliament.
“They did it because Congress leader Rahul Gandhi failed to provide the kind of leadership which could keep the whole opposition glued,” said political commentator Ram Bahadur Rai. Rai said that Rahul Gandhi has completely failed to establish himself as an alternative to Narendra Modi and regional leaders have an idea of such status in New Delhi. Therefore, they are eyeing this as a window of opportunity for their bid to 7 RCR. That’s why they decided to keep themselves separate from the Congress Party. On what could be its impact and how it would affect Modi government, especially in 2019 Lok Sabha polls Rai continued, “It doesn’t pose much threat to Modi government as all these leaders were on the opposite side in 2014 too. It’s worrisome for Rahul Gandhi as these regional leaders have still not accepted Congress vice president as their leader and hence Congress needs to correct its measures in coming one year before it becomes too late to correct.”
Apart from this, Congress party in a national party and it’s obvious that it would expect including Modi baiters that Rahul Gandhi would be the natural leader if the opposition unites to take on formidable looking Narendra Modi. But, if we compare the 1996 situation and 2019, we come across major dimensional changes now. Today, Congress has shrink to mere 45 Lok Sabha seats while except Karnataka, none of the states it governs has any major prominence in Presidential polls which is fast approaching next year. Apart from this, Rahul Gandghi has failed to keep his small flock together which allowed BJP to shun away states like Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh from the Congress hands. Since December 2013, the Congress Party has only lost assembly polls and has not won even a single major state. Such losing spree is also one of the major reasons that forced regional leaders to think over the leadership ability of Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party.
But, the Congress party leaders think otherwise. A Congress leader who don’t want to be identified said, “Separate protest doesn’t mean the regional parties are defying the leadership of Rahul Gandhi when it comes to showcase the unity of the whole opposition. Same leaders had queued behind Congress party when they were protesting outside the parliament on November 23rd on the same issue.” The leader further said that such a separate demonstration had intensified the whole exercise as these parties pulled the government in more cemented manner as it helped the whole opposition cadre to come out with their entire strength.
On loosing spree of the grand old party in various state assembly polls since December 2013, the veteran Congress leader said, “It’s not true. We have won Bihar with a decisive mandate and Congress party too did well by winning 27 seats there.” The leader said that when Maharashtra was going to polls, NCP snapped its ties with us and at that everybody had written us off. We did well there and came third in quadrangular contest even after having the load of 10 years of anti-incumbency. Had the NCP remained with us, we could have done better and may be in the government and Sharad Pawar understands this, the leader who hails from Maharashtra asserted.
One thing that the senior Congress leader didn’t mentioned was the acceptability of the leader and its quality among the regional leaders. In India, it is easy for leaders like HD Devegowda and IK Gujaral to become Prime Minister and leave strong regional leader like Lalu Prasad Yadav sulking because regional leaders want weak central leader as it would help them bargain at maximum levels. Therefore, a strong leader like Rahul Gandhi doesn’t suit either to Mamata Banerjee or to Mulayam Singh Yadav or Nitish Kumar. Hence, every time there is an opportunity for them to flex their muscle they do that without any hesitation.
If the regional leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee accept Rahul Gandhi as their leader and unite behind the Congress party, it would negate their chances of bargaining with the centre and at the same time it would minimize their chances to wrest maximum number of seats to contest into the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from their alliance partner. So, it might be a strategic for the strong regional leaders to remain non-stitched with the Congress party and get maximum advantage from the centre as states depend heavily on centers for various grants and other strategic support. So, it’s more regional compulsions that hasn’t allowed the strong regional parties to side with Congress today but things would get clearer at faster rate as and when the preparations for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll begins.
THREAT FROM CONGRESS
As mentioned earlier, Rahul Gandhi won’t be a weak leader and hence he won’t entertain the nagging nature of the regional allies. So, strong leader at the centre to take on the whole opposition in a united manner would have little chances for the regional parties to fancy their demands being met at a single call. For example, take Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu. When the TDP was in NDA when Atal Behari Vajpayee was leading, it was quite easy for him to receive state grants at his will while in case of Narendra Modi, he has been begging for the grant promised to Andhra Pradesh at the time of partition of Telangana. So, the whole dimension changes when you have a strong central leader at New Delhi. Today Modi is having majority in the Lok Sabha and hence, it makes his alliance partners (even traditional old partners like Akali Dal and Shiv Sena) to succumb to BJP pressure.
Since, Congress is a national party and it has larger presence than strong regional parties. They know their limitations and in case of any alliance, they will have to spare their seat to the Congress party rather Congress leaving its seat for them. In such a scenario, on the policy of small is beautiful, Congress may think of winning around 50 odd seats in the lower house through the alliances that it would make with strong regional parties. Apart from this, it has its own presence in various states where BJP has peaked in 2014 by winning maximum even whole Lok Sabha seats in states like Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Chhatishgarh.
So, it’s for sure that BJP’s numbers would scale down in such states where Congress is head on with BJP while in other states Congress would be gaining through its regional partners. So, Congress is expected to get up to three figure marks with ease while for regional partners it would be a distant dream. Even a leader like Mulayam Singh Yadav should feel lucky if they win 35-40 seats because he represents a state which sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of the parliament. But, for other regional leaders, touching 30 seats would be an achievement and hence, it doesn’t make any sense for them to take Rahul Gandhi lightly the way they took on HD Devegowda and IK Gujaral because their party was at par with other regional alliance partners in the United Front Government that they were heading.
If there would be a Congress led government in New Delhi, it would be Congress dictating terms rather leaders like M Karunanidhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad Yadav. We have witnessed this during the UPA government when DMK leader A Raja had to resign in the wake of 2G Scam while in 1998, the same DMK dictated terms and led to the down fall of IK Gujral government.
QUESTION OVER RAHUL
The Congress Party under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership would remain dominant even when it would be a junior partner in state. Rahul Gandhi has proved that in Bihar where he forcibly convinced Lalu Prasad Yadav to align with Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav. The Gandhi scion left no other option for Lalu but to accept Congress’s idea of grand alliance. He even made Lalu to accept Nitish as leader of the alliance in the state leaving the Yadav muscle man to ‘gallop poison’ for the sake of strengthening the secular forces. In this whole exercise, Congress under Rahul didn’t forget to think post election scenario and hence it bargained for itself along with Nitish and wrested 41 seats for itself while Nitish and Lalu contesting 101 seats each (21 less than the complete majority). This formula worked, and the winning chariot of Modi got stopped in Patna and the grand alliance won 178 (out of 243) seats where Lalu’s RJD won 80 seats while Nitish’s JDU won 71 seats. The seat sharing was so tactical that neither RJD nor JDU can think of forming government without the Congress if they want to safeguard their secular credentials.
Similarly, when Rahul Gandhi decided to align with left in West Bengal assembly polls, political analysts questioned over his leadership ability as aligning with the left was termed ‘suicidal’ for the grand old party as left’s bad image was expected to dent Congress’s chances in the assembly polls. However, when the results were announced, Congress emerged as second largest party in the state assembly. Today, if Mamata is dialing Left leader Sitaran Yechury to fight together against the demonetization, it’s because of Congress party’s foresightedness which knew if someone who can be a potential threat to Mamata in West Bengal, its BJP. So, Congress alliance with Left filled those holes where cracks into the opposition ranks in the West Bengal that could give any opportunity for the lotus to bloom in power corridors of Kolkata. In fact, Congress-left alliance can be useful in other states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Tripura and some more state where Left has marginal but significant presence.
WALK OVER IN UP
Some political analysts may think that Congress party failed to forge an alliance in Uttar Pradesh or nobody is ready to forge alliance with Congress party in UP, but in actual, Congress party still believes that if they want to stand on their own, they will have to strengthen themselves in UP as road to New Delhi goes through Lucknow. Giving a thought from other angle, if the Congress party doesn’t work on alliance with either BSP or SP, it certainly gave an indication that that it would prefer to if such an option comes towards them.
During Samajwadi scabbard between nephew Akhilesh Yadav and Uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi made it clear after an hour long meeting between Prashant Kishor and Mulayam Singh Yadav that Congress was ready for alliance with SP provided Mulayam announces that Akhilesh would be the chief ministerial candidate of that alliance. Hence, Congress under Rahul Gandhi is able to assess who is going to lead SP and who would set the party and poll agenda in coming days in UP. It also indicates that BSP supremo Mayawati is losing ground and any alliance with her won’t be able to find the kind of result Rahul Gandhi gave in Bihar. Rahul indicating to align with Akhilesh led SP is also a major shift in Congress think tank over Samajwadi Party as Sonia Gandhi never relied on Mulayam Singh Yadav after the 1999 episode. Rahul Gandhi being soft on Akihilesh is indicative enough that Sonia era will not have its effect on the Rahul era which has just began to blossom.
Some political observers are of the opinion that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t want to create another rival for his bid to 7 RCR in 2019 and hence he decided to remain away from BSP’s Mayawati as Congress-BSP alliance would ensure sure majority in Lucknow but majority of the credit would go to Mayawati and being a Dalit, Mayawati would automatically qualify for the post of Prime Minister once she becomes chief minister of UP. That’s why Rahul decided to support Akhilesh Yadav as it would further dent the chances of Mulayam Singh fancying his Prime Ministerial ambitions. If Akhilesh becomes chief minister of UP, all credit would go to the Yadav scion and hence Mulayam Singh would further pushed to the corners into his own party.
Probably, Mulayam had a sniff of it and he responded with a befitting reply that there was no question of any alliance. ‘Only thing that can happen is merger with the SP of parties want to align with us,’ a strong rebuttal to Rahul Gandhi’s plans in UP. However, it indicates that how sharp the Congress think tank is that it pinched to the place it wanted to pinch the SP patriarch. Therefore, political analysts opining that Congress has given a walk-over to BJP and other by not forging alliance with either of BSP or SP are on the wrong side.
During monetization rebuttal, if someone who axed his own leg than others, it’s Nitish Kumar. By announcing support to Modi’s demonetization, Bihar chief minister created confusion among the secular forces whether he is sailing two boats at one point of time? However, people close to Nitish indicated in closed door conversation that Nitish doesn’t want to be dubbed as blind baiter of Modi or blind supporter of Congress party. He wants issue-based support or rejection. For example, he supported the central government on the GST Bill as it was good for the state. Similarly, he blasted Modi over Rohit Vemula suicide. Similarly, he sided with Left on Kanhaiya incident so that he can prove himself a leader who can remain available to all sections of the power corridors.
However, on the other hand, Arvind Kejriwal, his blasphemous attack on Modi has become so regular that people have stopped paying that kind of heed which he used to attract earlier. His decision to attack Modi for all reasons has become ‘butt of joke’ in Delhi. Kejriwal had a greater opportunity to provide good governance to the people of Delhi and continue strengthening its folds in other states. Rather Kejriwal continued with his activist mindset of blame-game and name-shame gimmick through social media. Now, Kejriwal’s stake in Punjab is so high that even in case of hung assembly, it would put curtains on his ambitions to become a potential contender for the Prime Minister in 2019. If Congress manages to form the government in Punjab, then it would be Arvind Kejriwal whom AAP Punjab workers should blame because it’s kejriwal’s ego clash with Sucha Singh Chotepur and some other prominent AAP Punjab leaders which led to heavy infighting in AAP’s Punjab unit. Like Rahul Gandhi, it as expected from Arvind Kejriwal to bring his trusted lieutenants to new Delhi leaving Chotepur with Punjab. By announcing Deputy CM post to SC/ST would do little help to Kejriwa’s image of ‘politician with different flavour’ as he has also started to indulge in caste politics which he blamed his rival at the time of his entry into the politics leaving his mentor Anna Hazare sulking in Ralegansiddhi, Maharashtra.
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