Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2024 > Avoiding The Pitfalls in Coalescence As Congress Begins ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay (...)

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 3 January 20, 2024

Avoiding The Pitfalls in Coalescence As Congress Begins ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’ | Ajay K. Mehra

Friday 19 January 2024, by Ajay K. Mehra


As the heat for the 2024 poll battle builds up, with the Modi-led BJP taking a lead with its pre-planned inauguration of the semi-finished Ram temple, the Congress and the INDIA alliance still remains in quandaries. Will they resolve the pitfalls facing them in the short time at their hand to compete with vigour? Even as the Congress is pinning its hopes on the Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra which Rahul Gandhi began on 14 January 2024 from Manipur and will conclude in Mumbai after traversing 6,700 kilometers in 67 days, the entire opposition ensemble is scratching their heads on forging INDIA to conquer Bharat in May 2024 despite the fact that the yatra that will cover 100 Lok Sabha seats and 337 assembly seats.

The Yatra

The quandary over the BJNY in the midst of seat-sharing issues even before leaderships of the constituent parties sit together, needs an audit of the ‘success’ of the previous Kanyakumari to Kashmir Bharat Jodo Yatra undertaken by Rahul Gandhi from 7 September to 19 January 2023.

The BJY had a very modest gain electorally for the leader and the party. While Rahul, portrayed abysmally in the media, could hardly gain the expected limelight as a credible national leader, the party’s electoral gains except in Karnataka (May 2023) and Telangana (November 2023) were poor. In the two states the Congress had leaders, organization and cadre which the BJP lacked. In Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan expected results did not accrue. Madhya Pradesh could not be conquered, and Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan that it ruled, were lost. Obviously, the achievement from the BJNY needs a hard look.

The restrictions imposed in Manipur by the South Block and the Manipur government to the BJNY’s flag off on 14 January shows that the BJP is determined to restrict political space for it. Scheduled to pass through seven BJP/NDA ruled states – Assam, Chhatisgarh, Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan, UP and Maharashtra – any of them can put hurdles by raising security issues any time with the support of the MHA.

The Yatra has taken off without a coherent manifesto for the alliance. It must still be done and the Rahul Gandhi and other leaders must announce it even as they traverse the distance.

The Asset

The Congress and the INDIA partners must consolidate and unitedly deploy their assets. The Congress retained its vote share in the five state Legislative Assembly polls in November 2023. Even though the Congress won only Telangana, it secured 4,92,24,020 (40.05%) votes as compared to 4,81,68,987 (39.19%) of the BJP. Indeed, in MP it trailed the BJP by 8.15 per cent, in Chhatisgarh by 4.04 per cent and in Rajasthan by 2.16 per cent because the BJP garnered additional votes. Though the national election would be an entirely different ballgame from the perspectives of leadership projection, party strategies, programmes and social coalition the parties retain, the gaps do not appear insurmountable with strategic coalition making (both social and political) and efficient campaigning.

The CSDS/Lokniti survey and its analysis shows that a significant majority of the Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis have voted for the Congress, whereas its support base amongst the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) has declined. The Congress, in fact the political coalition it is forming, has to regain its OBC support across the country. An additional shift of a mere 5 per cent among OBC voters in its favour could be a game changer.

The Leadership Question

A major contestation is expected on this issue of leadership, which is significant to the poll campaign strategy that must be adroitly sorted out. Even though Rahul Gandhi has kept a low profile and his name has not been pushed by others to avoid controversies, he is not out of contention. By suggesting the name of party President Mallikarjun Kharge as the prime ministerial candidate of the alliance, Congress has claimed leadership role as India’s grand old party and the second largest national party after the BJP.

Bihar chief minister and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar has nursed prime ministerial ambition for long and is in contention despite denials. His declining the role of the convener emerged as an avoidable sharp edge.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who quit Congress on leadership issue in 1998, founded Trinamool Congress and asserted her leadership claims in 2011 by defeating a well-entrenched Left Front in West Bengal is another strong claimant. She is conscious of being in the saddle in the state for the past thirteen years.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is another quiet claimant. The ambitious civil servant turned social activist turned wily politician cleverly used Anna Hazare and a behind the scene support of the RSS in 2011-12 to unsettle the well-performing Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government in Delhi that destabilized the UPA regime in 2014. He founded the Aam Admi Party in 2012 which has emerged as an important player in national politics.

The Coalition Conundrum

The proposed coalition for now appears on a rough contentious plane even before the partners began negotiating at the table. Several constituents appear determined to get better of the Congress, which has wisely not advanced many claims yet. Many parties, looking at their regional strength, have begun announcing the seats they would allow to the Congress. From AAP to Bihar’s mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) to Trinamool Congress appear to be aiming at clipping the wings of the Congress by offering as limited seats as possible in their spheres of influence. The Congress has reacted negatively to such offers and made its intentions clear for a larger share of seats. Mercifully Kharge has been elected chair of the coalition smoothly.

Even before the coalition talks begin, the BJP has succeeded in striking a blow to the ambition of the INDIA alliance in Maharashtra. Though on expected lines, the ruling of the Maharashtra assembly speaker Narwekar to recognize the Shinde faction as the legitimate Shiv Sena and rejecting the claims of Uddhav Thackeray faction, weakens coalition prospects there.

Let alone the Congress, the competing seat claims even before setting up a coordination committee do not bode well for the INDIA alliance. Such a process may eventually lead to candidates and parties working and campaigning at cross purposes avoidably even after the seats are allocated. The alliance must be forged strongly.

The Strategy

The INDIA alliance must act with coherence with a coordination committee that sits together and allocates seats as a unit keeping in view the strength of each party and candidate constituency wise. Speaking in one voice through an articulate spokesperson, conveying the decision of the alliance coherently, is precondition to success. The constituents and their leaders together must frame a credible alternative programme and agenda before they go to the people.

Despite the BJP entering the poll fray with a strong leadership quotient represented by Narendra Modi, INDIA should unitedly state that it would elect a leader only after the election if it cannot agree on a leader.

The saffron dust of the Ayodhya temple would be another strong poll claim for the BJP, the INDIA alliance needs to counter it and face it unitedly without creating avoidable paradoxes.

(Author: Ajay K. Mehra is a political scientist. He was Atal Bihari Vajpayee Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 2019-21 and Principal, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Evening College, Delhi University (2018))

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.