With Sonia Gandhi to attend Opposition meet in Bengaluru, regional parties expect Congress to be reasonable

Sonia Gandhi once again has had to travel a thousand miles down south to lend political credibility and commitment on behalf of the Congress.
Last Updated : 17 July 2023, 06:58 IST

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On New Year’s Day in 2004, Sonia Gandhi walked out of her 10 Janpath residence in Delhi and took the footpath to Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vial Paswan’s house just a furlong down the road. Her short walk to Paswan’s bungalow was the beginning of the formation of the United Progressive Alliance that ruled at the Centre for two consecutive terms beginning in 2004.

In the past two decades, a lot of water has flown down the Yamuna. BJP under Narendra Modi has a far greater appetite and bandwidth to accommodate friends and foes alike. Congress is no more a dominant pole in national politics.

But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of stitching the grand Opposition alliance against the BJP ahead of the 2024 polls, Sonia Gandhi once again has had to travel a thousand miles down south to lend political credibility and commitment on behalf of the Congress before the leaders of 26 Opposition parties that gather in in Bangalore.

“Her presence in the Bangalore meet is well thought out. She alone carries the political weight and heft to make a commitment on behalf of the Congress to accommodate regional parties which are expecting a quid pro quo,” says an alliance leader from Bihar.

The first indication of Congress’ willingness to carry everyone along came with the party’s decision to oppose the Delhi ordinance which has been a bone of contention between the Congress and the AAP. The latter had threatened to boycott the unity efforts if Congress did not make its stand clear on the issue before the Bangalore meeting.

Specific issues apart, allies — both potential and those in the boardroom — would be looking for meaning and messages from Sonia on broadly two fronts: the grand old party’s desire to make reasonable claims on seat allocation in states where the regional hold the sway and Congress would be playing the minor role.

This includes states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Bihar where Congress would be expected to play second fiddle to Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, AAP, JMM, Shiv Sena-NCP and JD(U)-RJD combine.

Moreover, in two states, Punjab and Kerala, Congress would be pitted against AAP and the Left as the main challenger.

Unresolved issues

“Which is why Sonia Gandhi’s interactions and assurance to regional leaders at the dinner table on Monday would be crucial and may help settle unresolved issues,” says another JD(U) leader from Bihar.

The allies would be eager to see whether the grand old party is willing to reciprocate the gesture and show a bigger heart in accommodating the regional parties in states where Congress is strong. This would be tested in particular in the upcoming four-state assembly elections in MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana.

The outcome of the four Assembly polls may set the tone and the tenor of the Lok Sabha elections in mid-2024 and parties like BSP which remain undecided may take a call on alliance only after getting a sense of which way the wind is blowing.

Published 17 July 2023, 01:16 IST

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