Opposition Unity Needs a Major Shift in Congress Approach
It was interesting to note the dynamics in the plenary session of the Indian National Congress. In that the party finally recognised the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, even though it took him a 4000 km padyatra to get rid of the carping and opposition within his own party. His mother Sonia Gandhi remains the matriarch of the Congress party, a hallowed position that no one in the party questions, but Rahul Gandhi has come to his own and spoke with a sense of confidence that also comes from a sense of acceptance.
It is interesting to note that the earlier arrogance of going it alone has been tempered by the realisation that the democratic space can be strengthened only through Opposition unity. And a sort of resolve that the Congress will stretch out to ensure it. At the same time the party has expressed apprehension about a Third Front at this stage, being of the view that such a grouping will only cut the opposition votes and help the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
But the realisation is just the first step. And the success of this will lie in the Congress leadership's ability to bury its own ego, reach out to the regional parties, and work out alliances that are for the country’s good. Till now in the states with strong regional parties the Congress party had always queered the pitch by demanding more seats that it was in position to win. This has been very visible in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in earlier elections. These columns have argued for a very basic and simple seat sharing agreement where the party that came second to the BJP in respective constituencies is allocated the seat, instead of numbers being conjured up on the basis of ambitions and aspirations.
Secondly, the Congress party being the largest national party after the BJP should respect regional federalism and in states where there are strong regional parties defer to their wishes, instead of using the next general elections for a supposed comeback by insisting on a large chunk of the seats. This has led to defeat in the past of the opposition forces, and it is imperative that seat sharing be discussed at some length according to winning chances and not candidates insisting on a ticket. It is perhaps not an easy task for political parties, but necessary if the Opposition wants to make a dent in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress plenary’s warning against a Third Front makes sense at this point, as any such grouping will intentionally or not, serve as a spoiler for the Opposition. It is thus necessary for the Congress party to form an election committee of the wiser and more persuasive members (and not the hard core as it were) to negotiate with leaders and parties like the Trinamool Congress, TRS and others who have been reluctant to enter into this larger alliance. Theatrics about who calls on whom are now meaningless, and if the Congress party intends on becoming the glue for Opposition unity it will have to take a leaf out of the Harkishen Singh Surjeet book to make itself relevant and accepted in that position. Actually even from the LK Advani book when he reached out to all and sundry to bring all parties on board and end the BJP isolation at that time.
The Congress plenary has also resolved to pass a law against hate crime if it comes to power. Sounds good but the devil always lies in the details, and the implementation as former Union Minister P.Chidambaram knows better than most. However, these are promises that are hinged on victory, and for that the Congress will have to prepare itself to deal with smaller parties and leaders with giant egos with kid gloves and to take a word out of Rahul Gandhi’s current political dictionary ‘love’. This is going to be the real hurdle for the party to cross in its quest for unity.