Payback time for Congress as INDIA allies take it to task for ignoring them

In defeat, the Congress is fielding barbs from its allies as they cite the party’s insistence on going solo in the Assembly polls, refusing to share seats or invite allies to campaign, as among the reasons for its rout

December 03, 2023 09:01 pm | Updated 11:35 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File picture of Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi

File picture of Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi | Photo Credit: ANI

Having pressed the pause button on the INDIA bloc, putting the Opposition alliance in a state of suspended animation while it focussed on Assembly elections, where it has lost three of the four States, the Congress is now facing the fury of the coalition’s other constituents, who are calling it a missed opportunity.

The next meeting of the alliance will be held on December 6 at Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge’s Delhi residence after a gap of three months since its last meeting in Mumbai, held on August 31 and September 1. 

Refused to share seats

This three-month period in limbo was marked by rancour between the Congress and its allies, which peaked with the Congress’ Madhya Pradesh president Kamal Nath’s jibe in response to Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s accusation of betrayal: “Arre bhai, chhodo Akhilesh Vakhilesh (Forget about Akhilesh Yadav)“. Mr. Yadav said that the SP had been led to believe that the Congress would concede five seats to them in the State after prolonged negotiations, but none were yielded; he claimed that the SP realised this only when the Congress actually published its list of candidates. 

Barring Telangana, where the Congress gave one seat to the Communist Party of India, the party refused to accommodate any of its INDIA allies in the other three States. Mr. Yadav has not yet commented on the Assembly poll results, but Mr. Nath’s remarks have returned to haunt his party, with allies circulating it to highlight the Congress’ antipathy.   

Short notice for INDIA meet

According to sources, the Congress reached out to INDIA constituents on Friday and Saturday, just before vote counting. With such short notice, the attendance at this week’s meeting is expected to be scant. Many top leaders could skip the meeting, including Trinamool Congress (TMC) president Mamata Banerjee and the party’s national general secretary, who may cite a prior engagement in northern Bengal. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also taunted the Congress for belatedly remembering INDIA, and went on to proclaim that if the situation does not change, the coalition cannot hope to win the 2024 election. 

A TMC leader pointed out that they had wanted seat-sharing arrangements to be put in place by October 31, in order to put up a credible fight in next year’s Lok Sabha election. “Had the car been running in third gear, this bump [that is, the Congress rout in three States] would have only slowed it down. But they never started the car, which is now in reverse gear,” the leader said. 

‘Congress lost alone’

Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) is equally livid. “INDIA bloc did not fight this election, only the Congress did and therefore it is their defeat alone,” the party’s secretary general K.C. Tyagi told The Hindu, pointing out that no other party’s leader had been invited for campaigning. An over-confident Congress, he said, had canceled INDIA’s first planned rally in Bhopal without consulting any allies; the event had been planned to send a solidarity message from the front in support of the Congress for the Madhya Pradesh polls, where it eventually fared the worst. Bhopal had been announced as the venue for the joint rally on September 13, following the first and last meeting of the INDIA coordination panel.

Also read: Assembly elections 2023 results | Not BJP’s victory but Congress’s failure, says Trinamool

“The trend clearly indicates the need for secular democratic forces to redouble their effort in order to safeguard people’s livelihood interest and secular democratic character of the Indian republic,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said. The CPI(M) had asked for only two seats in Telangana, which the Congress State leadership refused to concede at the last minute, forcing the CPI(M) to go it alone in the polls.

The Congress left a lone seat in the State for the CPI at the very last minute. “Election results of four States are a lesson to secular-democratic parties. Only through unity and alternative vision can the RSS-BJP be defeated and our Republic saved. All secular-democratic parties, including INC [Indian National Congress], must engage in introspection to have mutual accommodation,” CPI general secretary D. Raja said. 

Silver lining

There is also a minority view among the allies, however, that INDIA not fighting the elections may actually insulate the Opposition front from the ignominy of the defeat. Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj K. Jha said that the Assembly results could not be extrapolated into a forecast of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. “These results are a message for the BJP from the south and for us from the north. We need a robust narrative to counter the BJP and their machinery in the north and this has to be presented collectively in the spirit of INDIA,” Mr. Jha said. 

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