By Nitya Chakraborty
In Indian politics, the ground situation changes very fast. That is apparent now as in just two months since the holding of the meeting of the 19 opposition parties on August 20, hosted by the then interim president, but now hands on president of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi, there has been a major transformation in the mood of some of the opposition parties which took part in the conclave of August 20.The most important is the decision of the Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) of Bihar which has always been a loyal ally of the Congress and Sonia Gandhi against the BJP all along. The other party is Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee.
First the RJD. In the coming by elections in Bihar, RJD has spurned the offer of the Congress to contest in one seat where it contested in 2020 assembly poll against the NDA on behalf of Mahagatbandhan.RJD has rejected that and RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav has announced that RJD will contest both the seats for by polls as giving Congress one seat means allowing BJP to win. In local elections, such differences take place among the allies but the significant pointer is that the Congress is not only contesting that by poll seat but the state observer Bhaktakumar Das has announced that Congress will go alone in future elections in Bihar and the Party will contest all the 40 seats in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
If this observation of Das reflects the thinking of the Congress high command meaning the Gandhi siblings, that is a dangerous trend and it means that the Congress is going back to its old concept of one party hegemony of Indian polity doing away with the path of opposition unity to fight a party of such high organisational efficiency and financial muscle power like the BJP. So far there is no denial from the Congress leadership to Das’s statement. RJD supremo Lalu Yadav is back to Patna and he has been a good ally of Sonia Gandhi till now. Even Lalu has refused to intervene as he feels that the Congress is not in a position to win this seat in the by polls due to its weak organisation.
Now about Trinamool. At the August 20 meeting, Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee showed enough bonhomie. Mamata wanted a core committee to be set up for coordination among the opposition parties. A programme based on eleven points was drawn up for launching agitation throughout the country from September 20 to 30 against the policies of Narendra Modi Government. Nothing was done from the Congress leadership as the high command was too busy with the factional war in its ruling state governments, especially Punjab. The Trinamool MPs earlier were talking to project Mamata as the leader of the opposition to take on Narendra Modi as she is the winner and she has got that killer instinct to challenge a leader like Narendra Modi. Both are full time politicians and have no personal life excepting politics.
Initially Mamata took the public position that the leadership issue was not a priority now and this will be decided after the Lok Sabha elections or before that on the basis of the political ground situation of that time. The main focus is to defeat BJP in the coming assembly elections and then to focus all concentration on defeating BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha elections by forging unity of all anti- BJP forces. But suddenly in the last four weeks, Mamata herself has started saying that the Congress is failing to take on BJP meaning that the Congress does not possess the striking power to hit at BJP, the other regional parties including the TMC have to do that job.
Significantly this coming out of Mamata against the capability of Congress leadership coincides with the failure of talks of Prashant Kishor with the Congress leadership about his joining the Congress and acting as the main poll strategist for 2024 Lok Sabha polls. It is now clear that Prashant Kishor has recast his poll strategy for 2024 polls in the light of new developments in the Congress. He is now fully with Mamata in expanding the outreach of Trinamool in two/three other states in the country including Goa, Tripura and Assam and put Trinamool as the number two opposition party in the new Lok Sabha after Congress.
The latest projection of Prashant Kishor indicates further strengthening of the regional parties and the emergence of the regional block as the most important component of the opposition parties. This policy calls for collaboration with the Congress also, supporting Congress where it is in the best position to fight the BJP, or where it is the only party strong enough to take on BJP candidates. More or less, this projection has some similarities with the 1996 scenario when the regional parties were the strongest block among the anti-BJP opposition and the Congress has to support the coalition from outside. But the differences this time is that the earlier anti-Congressism is gone and now the problem is with the Congress’s inflated notion about its strength.
Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee will be in Goa on October 28. Already there is a big stir among the civil society and the sports world which have big influence on the small voting base of Goa with 40 assembly seats. Congress is at the receiving end. Expectations are there lot of important people including MLAs of smaller parties will be joining the TMC. In sum, TMC is determined to emerge as a major party in the February 2022 assembly polls and the party is ready to collaborate with the Congress in forming a state government if the non BJP parties gain majority in the new assembly. As TMC sources say that the weakening of the Congress had earlier led many supporters to defect to the BJP in the state, but now the TMC is giving the anti-BJP people a new option. Those who are frustrated with the Congress, may choose this option.
TMC will also make all efforts in Tripura and Assam to expand their base and all these will be at the cost of the Congress to some extent, but not fully. In Tripura, the aim is to bid for the state government by fighting the assembly elections in 2023 and in Assam, all focus is on making alliances with some of the regional parties to make a strong block to take on BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha polls. In fact, TMC, under its present strategy, will try to have understanding with the Congress in Assam in Lok Sabha poll taking into account the ground situation in 2024.
All these stirrings among the opposition parties will be louder if the Congress fares badly in the coming assembly polls to the five states in early 2022- Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh. Congress has to retain Punjab and get at least two states out of UK, Goa and Manipur on its own or as a part of coalition. Nobody expects Congress to come to the government after elections in Uttar Pradesh, but Priyanka has to show that as a part of the Gandhi family and the Congress leadership, she has been able to substantially improve the Congress position. Out of 400 odd seats in UP assembly, the Congress has to get at least 10 per cent meaning 40 seats, if Priyanka has to make any major impact in the Uttar Pradesh politics.
In sum, the non Congress opposition parties including Mamata and Lalu Yadav will be taking a far more accommodative stance towards the Congress if the Congress fares quite well in the assembly elections. Elections are also like wars. Winners are heroes. Once they win, nobody remembers what happened before, how many times they were defeated. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka are facing that moment. Sonia Gandhi has staked everything of the Congress for her two children. They have to show now that they are the right inheritors to the Congress legacy. Only a thumping victory in assembly elections by the Congress will ensure that guarantee. Once that happens, the political landscape after March 2022 will change again catapulting Rahul Gandhi to the centre stage of the opposition politics. If not, the GOP led by the brother and the sister will have to act as the second fiddle of the opposition parties till the 2024 polls. (IPA Service)