Congress test: Competing ambitions of regional satraps

Congress test: Competing ambitions of regional satraps

Bengaluru: Newly sworn-in Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu, AICC President Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi wave after t

Competing ambitions of the regional satraps could play a spoilsport for the Opposition particularly Congress, which has been making claims to oust Narendra Modi led BJP in 2019. 

On Sunday, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress announced that it would contest Lok Sabha polls in 14 states.  This comes after another powerful regional satrap Mayawati has already contested assembly polls separately from Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and has ambitions for Lok Sabha polls too.

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Mayawati’s BSP  is not contesting elections separately but also stitching up alliances with big and small regional parties like Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Rashtriya Janta Dal in Bihar, Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress in Chhattisgarh, Janata Dal-Secular in Karnataka and Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana.

This will perhaps be the first time when Trinamool Congress, the ruling party of West Bengal has announced to contest Lok Sabha polls in such a large number of states.

The other state, where it had a substantial presence was Tripura. This was after almost the entire Congress leadership had shifted allegiance to Banerjee’s party before it finally joined the BJP lock stock barrel ensuring the first saffron party government in the Left bastion of Tripura.

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All India Trinamool Congress on Sunday announced that the ruling party in West Bengal will contest from 14 states across the country in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The announcement made by TMC’s chief spokesperson and its Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’ Brien in Odisha within ten days of Banerjee hosting a mega Opposition conclave of nearly two-dozen parties and nearly four dozen senior leaders from different parties in Kolkata on January 19.

Her move, which was seen as throwing her hat in the Prime Ministerial race by regional satraps for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, is not good news for Congress which was expecting major gains towards Opposition unity under Rahul Gandhis’ leadership after Congress clocked a 3:0 victory in Hindi heartland states---Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

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The Kolkata rally was not attended by either Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi and the party was represented by Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, as it was apparently clear that Banerjee is not going to give any special importance to the Congress on the dais.

Clearly, the competition among non-Congress Opposition parties is to emerge either as the second largest party or the leader a group of parties, which has more seats than the Congress after the 2019 polls.

In the past, when coalition governments backed by Congress from outside were formed, Janta Dal and Left were two major blocks.

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While the Left preferred lending support from outside, it was the constituents of Janata Parivar, who gave Prime Ministers—be it V P Singh, Chandrashekhar, H D Devegowda or I K Gujaral. The firsts government of Singh was supported by BJP and Left alike and survived till BJP withdrew support. In all other cases, it was Congress which supported from outside for a short period.

In key Hindi state Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to Lok Sabha, regional parties—Samajwadi Party, BSP, and Ajit Singh RLD joined hands, keeping Congress out of the Opposition alliance.

In Bihar also, the seat-sharing arrangement between Congress and Prasad’s RJD is yet to be finalized and Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav’s going overboard in welcoming  Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav alliance in UP was seen with suspicion in the inner circles of Congress.

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In West Bengal, even as Congress is yet to finalize whether to go for an alliance with TMC or Left, Banerjee’s party has already announced to contest on all 42 Lok Sabha seats.

Congress, which took a stand of not bowing to BSP’s pressure for more seats in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, has not taken kindly to being kept of the secular grand alliance in UP. Taken aback, Congress last week brought out its trump card Priyanka Gandhi into national politics of the party and made her in-charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh amid hopes that Priyanka effect will electrify cadres across the state.

There is already a view in the party that Congress should not give up its seats and should focus more on post-poll alliances than pre-poll except where alliances are essential and respectable like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, where its tie-ups with NCP and DMK  could turn the tables.  Even in Bihar, the party is hopeful that its alliance with RJD is a formidable one.