India: Congress treads carefully in run-up to polls

  • The Congress leadership is cautiously treading the slippery path for stitching up alliances ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. For many senior Congress leaders, the SP-BSP decision to announce an alliance excluding the Congress was hardly a surprise as they were aware that the political hotline between Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav had snapped after the ill-fated ‘UP ko yeh saath pasand hai’ tango in 2017.
  • Further, they understand that the SP-BSP alliance is aimed at not only checking the BJP but also designed to guard their turfs against the Congress, after it wrested three BJP ruled Hindi-heartland states.
  • These leaders pointed to media reports on ‘SP-BSP ejecting Congress’ surging immediately after Congress won MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
  • “Akhilesh has finally started following what Mulayamji believed: A Congress revival, especially in northern India, poses a challenge to the SP in retaining its Muslim base, built after the Congress decimation in UP,” a Congress party insider said.
  • Similarly, the AICC brass feels that a turf conflict with the Trinamool Congress makes an alliance with it unfeasible, as Mamata Banerjee too carved out her party out of Bengal Congress.
  • Further, Congress leaders know that Mayawati and Banerjee nurse the ambition of leading the alliance in New Delhi should the post-poll scenario present an opening for an anti-BJP government.
  • While the Congress won’t go out of its way to bolster the Trinamool or BSP tally, the party is keen on avoiding any irreparable bitterness with the duo, keeping in mind post-poll requirements.
  • Congress leaders know despite their party’s unprecedented decline, it is still tougher for it than BJP to stich pre-poll alliances for two reasons.
  • First, all original allies of BJP — Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, JDU, erstwhile partners such as TDP and BJD and informal allies TRS and YSRCP — essentially thrive on anti-Congress turf and can supplement their votes against a common opponent.
  • Second, the Congress’ present and potential allies — NCP, RJD, JMM, DMK or recent entrants JDS, TDP, etc — grew at the cost of the Congress and even when mutual compulsions bring them closer, the allies live in perennial worry of a ‘resurgent’ Congress chipping away at their bases.
  • Keeping in mind these in-built contradictions, the Congress leadership’s resolve includes fast-tracking election preparations to mop up maximum possible seats, readying for tedious bargaining with allies in states such as Maharashtra (where the deal is almost final), Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Gujarat, J&K, Kerala and possibly AP and Telangana and then keeping the door open for post-poll negotiations with other non-NDA parties.

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