Party leaders make light of NCP participation in the 14-party convention against communalism

The coming together of 14 non-Congress, non-BJP political parties at a “Convention for People’s Unity Against Communalism” here on Wednesday, ahead of next year’s general election, received a muted response from the Congress.

If its official response was non-committal, conversations with senior Congress leaders suggested that they were wary of the motives of the leaders of these largely regional parties, even as they made light of the fact that Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party was represented at the convention.

“In this country, there are two sorts of mentalities, one that believes in fraternity, the other in divide and rule,” Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar said, when asked about the convention and whether it would form the core of a Third Front. “One section believes in secularism, the other in fascism,” he continued, adding, “Those who spoke at today’s convention spoke of oneness and unity, not about a Third Front… And it is the Congress that has been standing like a rock against the forces of communalism, for which we have been attacked.”

Pressed further, Mr. Babbar said, “the Congress’s belief system and commitment to the secular ideal is firm, and if that concern is being reflected on social and political platforms, that is good.”

Attack against Congress

The ruling party has reason to be watchful for, though most speakers trained their guns on the BJP, some of them accused the Congress too of lapses. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta of the Asom Gana Parishad — a party which in the past was a BJP ally — questioned the Congress’s secular credentials, and said the maximum number of communal riots had taken place on its watch. And CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat accused the Congress of creating a sense of despondency in the country that provided the ground for the ascendancy of right-wing forces. The NCP’s D.P. Tripathi was ambivalent: “People are asking why I am here. Does being part of the government mean we do not fight against communalism? NCP is the only constituent of the UPA that has been part of the LDF in Kerala for 10 years,” he said, adding, “Since 2000, the NCP has maintained that all secular forces need to unite against communalism. This should be taken up with a revolutionary zeal.” His party colleague and Union Minister for Heavy Industries Praful Patel justified the NCP's participation, saying later that “in the era of coalition politics, we have to keep our options open of working with other parties.”

Faced with this mixed message, two senior Congress leaders told The Hindu separately that while such a gathering helped to articulate the concerns of a vast section against the BJP and other right- wing forces, it also meant that it could help divide the minority vote. “We feel that this move will help the BJP as it could divide the minority votes. None of these parties can hope to win more than a maximum of 30 to 40 seats: it is only the Congress that has the geographical spread to take on Modi and the BJP,” said one leader.

Seeking to put a more positive spin on the convention, a Congress functionary said, “It will help to create an atmosphere against the BJP. Some people have begun to say we are not strong enough to take on the BJP’s communal agenda. So if there are parties willing to attack the BJP for us, that’s welcome.”

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