No non-BJP Government is ever possible without the Congress, says Anand Sharma

Anand Sharma: ‘Congress has a national footprint and has 20% of the national vote’   | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

As the war of words between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress intensifies, Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma asserted that a non-BJP government can never be formed without the Congress. Asked about the Opposition’s face for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Mr Sharma, who is part of the G-23 [group of 23 leaders seeking internal reforms], said the Congress Working Committee (CWC) will deliberate upon the issue at an appropriate time. Edited excerpts.

Divisions within the Opposition have been the dominant feature in the winter session of Parliament. Trinamool Congress has refused to be part of any Congress-led initiative in Parliament and there is a bitter war of words outside Parliament.

The Opposition, by and large, has stayed united. It has stood together on issues and also in prioritising what we have to raise in the House. Meetings convened by the Leader of Opposition (LoP) has been attended by 14-15 political parties. So it may not be the right thing to say that the Opposition has split but yes, it’s true that Trinamool has drifted away. But on issues, all the parties stand together. That’s what matters in parliamentary democracy. Whether it’s Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) or the Trinamool, we all say the same thing on the same subject.

But the Opposition is fighting among themselves. Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee has reached out NCP chief Sharad Pawar, denied UPA’s existence and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav backed her.

Electoral politics in a multiparty democracy is a contested space and it’s always a dynamic scenario. There have been times when political parties have been together in government or in larger coalitions and have then moved their own respective ways. Political rhetoric and positioning during elections or prior to elections should not be treated as something, stated with finality. In politics, nothing is frozen, nothing is sealed and there has to be inbuilt flexibility.

Also read: Congress hits out at Mamata Banerjee’s moves

You cannot have a democracy which has only one view, one approach, one party. There are aspirations of the regional parties but the role of the national parties is important. We are in power in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and are in coalition with the Shiv Sena and NCP in Maharashtra, JMM in Jharkhand. Our alliance is there with the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the United Democratic Front in Kerala.

We may speak in different voices, can express our strong disagreement with an approach or have our own observations on leadership but personal bitterness must never be injected.

But leadership is the main issue. Trinamool wants Mamata Banerjee to be the Opposition’ face for 2024 Lok Sabha polls while many in the Congress believe it should be Rahul Gandhi. Many also argue that senior leaders like Sharad Pawar or Ms Banerjee will not accept his leadership. Don't you think that this is a big distraction? Has the Congress Party brought up the issue of leadership for 2024 at the stage?

I feel it’s both premature and speculative. The priority at this stage is to look at one clear objective: how to oppose and defeat the BJP. You cannot put the post electoral menu of 2024 on the table in 2021. For any non-BJP government, the Congress party remains central and without the Congress, such a thing is just not possible. We can’t say that Congress alone can do it but nobody should say that we can do it without the Congress. Congress has a national footprint and has 20% of the national vote. No doubt, we have lost two national elections [2014 ,2019 Lok Sabha polls] and no party or leadership can be comfortable with it. But look at the recent bypolls in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP lost their security deposits on some seats.

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Elections are presidential in nature these days and people want to know who is the Oppostion’s face against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Trinamool says it is Mamata Banerjee.

Trinamool has every right to say so but as a Congressman, I have not been authorised to make that determination. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) and the Congress President will take a call at the appropriate time. What would be the permutations and combinations after the 2024 elections cannot be dissected today as things will keep changing and evolving.

Election strategist Prashant Kishor too said there is space for the Congress but leadership is not someone’s divine right if the party loses 90% of elections in the past 10 years, hitting out Rahul Gandhi without naming him.

The results are also very well recorded with the Election Commission of India and it is really no nuclear science. True, we have lost elections but when he [Mr. Gandhi] was the party president, we won Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and gave the BJP a run for their money in Gujarat. So I am not getting there. Whatever observations I make is after having half a century of experience as a political activist, as an ideologue and as a parliamentarian for long. I do not come from the understanding or perspective of a consultant or strategist.

Didn’t the G-23 [group of 23 leaders seeking internal reforms] also raise the leadership issue with regard to Mr Gandhi?

That’s not a correct perception. We gave suggestions for wide ranging reforms in the party and also talked about leadership at various levels, right from the District Congress Committees to the Pradesh Congress Committees and to the CWC and the Parliamentary Board. It is purely an internal issue. It would be injustice if reformists are labelled as rebels. That wouldn’t be fair. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is the Congress President and we have never had a vacancy. The membership drive is on nationally and the CWC has decided on a schedule of elections.

Finally, one week of winter session is over and Rajya Sabha has been paralysed over the suspension of the 12 Opposition MPs. Are we going to see another washout?

The Congress Party and all the like minded parties who are together with us are clear that the session should be productive. This is the only time we can hold the government to account. The government will be interested just to run rush through its legislative agenda without any parliamentary scrutiny and give no space to the Opposition. The logjam in the House is most unfortunate and it is the duty of the ruling party/ ruling alliance to ensure that Parliament functions.

Also read: Why should we apologise, ask 12 suspended MPs

What happened in the last session should have never happened. We all believe in the dignity of the Parliament which is the highest forum for discussion and debate. But the government was not willing to allow a discussion on the Farm Laws and Pegasus. That was the monsoon session and the session was prorogued on August 31 by the Honourable President of India. The winter session of the Parliament following the prorogation of the monsoon session is neither an extension nor a continuity. So, I feel strongly that it is a miscarriage of justice.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 11:50:45 PM |

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