Congress has to be the fulcrum of any electoral alliance for 2024, says Jairam Ramesh

The concluding event of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar on January 30 is not a ‘coalition-building exercise’, Congress communications chief says

January 28, 2023 07:30 pm | Updated 09:54 pm IST - SRINAGAR/ New Delhi

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh addresses a press conference. File

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh addresses a press conference. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The concluding event of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar on January 30 is not a “coalition-building exercise”, the Congress said on Saturday, though underlining that no meaningful Opposition alliance can be formed without the Congress being the fulcrum.

Speaking at a press conference in Srinagar, party general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, “Let me make it absolutely clear, the function on [January] 30th is not a coalition-building exercise. The function on the 30th was an invitation extended in good faith to like-minded political parties, who, we believe, oppose the policies and programmes of the BJP. It is not to build a platform for 2024. It was, as I said, a courtesy we extended to like-minded parties to join the formal conclusion of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.” Mr. Ramesh was responding to a question on several Opposition parties turning down the invitation from party president Mallikarjun Kharge to participate in the closing event of the yatra.

“I don’t see the absence of anybody who has been invited as a setback. They may have other preoccupation,” he said.

Mr. Ramesh cited Janata Dal(U) president Rajiv Ranjan Singh’s letter, which, while extending support to the yatra, expressed his inability to join the concluding event, saying that he was preoccupied with campaigning for the upcoming Assembly election in Nagaland.

Janata Dal(Secular) patriarch and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda too sent a similar missive to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the yatra.

There is no official word from the Samajwadi Party and the Trinamool Congress, though sources said, that they too are unlikely to send any representatives.

Even the Rashtriya Janana Dal, an ally of the Congress, has so far not made up its mind about participating in the Srinagar event.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has its central committee meeting in Kolkata coinciding with the event, is also likely to give it a miss.

The only public confirmations so far on attendance have come from the Jammu and Kashmir-based National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party. Communist Party of India general-secretary D. Raja, also in a public statement a few days ago, confirmed his presence. Mr. Kharge had extended invitation to 23 parties.

Dismissing the absence of the Opposition leaders as a “setback”, Mr. Ramesh said a formal outreach would begin after the conclusion of the yatra. “Any Opposition platform to defeat the BJP must be based on two realities — Congress must be the pivot or fulcrum of any Opposition alliance. Without the Congress, no Opposition alliance is relevant or meaningful. Second, any Opposition alliance must be based on positive and constructive agenda not just anti-BJPism,” he said.

He stressed that the Bharat Jodo Yatra was an ideological battle and it was not the yatra’s business to discuss electoral alliances.

In J&K, the NC and the PDP have extended full support to the yatra, with party leaders Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah walking with Mr. Gandhi. However, Mr. Ramesh made it clear that they were free to “choose any electoral alliance” once election is declared.

On Mr. Gandhi’s projection as the Prime Ministerial candidate through the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Mr. Ramesh quoted a few lines from the Bhagavad Gita to draw a point. “Lord Arjun is advised to carry forward the dharma of right to work and not to think of results. Our dharma is the Bharat Jodo Yatra, we did it. What happens next is not something we think about,” he added.

Though there were no formal reactions to Mr. Ramesh’s comments about the Congress’s role in an anti-BJP coalition, many of the allies, speaking on condition of anonymity said that the statement reeked of arrogance.

“We have always spoken about all Opposition parties as co-travellers. Each of us has a sphere of influence, the Congress is not strong in every State. Our stand so far has been, that the strongest party in every State should be allowed to be in the driving seat,” an Opposition leader said.

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