What Congress needs for the “Mahagathbandhan” to workby Opinion Express March 11, 2019 0 comments
For the mahagathbandhan to work, Congress has to bend in its dealing with regional parties even as it offers SP-BSP seats in Maharashtra
The Congress needs to accommodate the federal front a bit more seriously if it wants the mahagathbandhan to work on the ground for the Lok Sabha election and keep the momentum of the last round of the Assembly verdict going. And though it doesn’t want to dilute its own solo presence and depth through strategic alliances, fact is without them, it might lose the script and score too little, too late. Perhaps that’s the reason why Congress chief Rahul Gandhi himself oversaw the seat-sharing arrangement in Karnataka. But it is Uttar Pradesh where the problem lies with Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav insisting that the two seats given to the Congress, the Gandhis’ strongholds of Raebareli and Amethi, meant that the party was already part of the Opposition front and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati keeping mum on further concessions. Perhaps that’s the reason why the grand old party has sent a “common aim” message of dismantling the Modi government by offering two Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra to the BSP and one to the SP while being in alliance with the NCP. While this is being done to coalesce the Dalit-Muslim votebase in that state, it is clearly an olive branch to prevent, what one of the Congress leaders said, hara-kiri in Uttar Pradesh, the result of which is crucial to stemming the Modi tide, on a high after the Balakot airstrikes.
Although the Congress has decided to field candidates in 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh and deployed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in full force, it has still a long way to go before stealing the thunder from the SP and BSP, given their solid vote percentages. Numerically, they pose a threat to the BJP’s vote share in combination and even surpass it for the Lok Sabha. It works for both the SP and BSP that the Congress stay in the fray as a vote-cutter of the BJP, given the commonality of its social base with the rightist party, and helps justify the backward caste-Dalit coalition as a front against the upper caste, Thakur raj of Yogi Adityanath. But with a recharged Congress and Priyanka’s fresh appeal, now that she is into booth level management, there could be a splintering of the Muslim-backward votebase, too, that would directly benefit the BJP. It is understandable that the SP and BSP are holding back going by past instances of seat-sharing where the Congress vote didn’t transfer en bloc to the caste candidate but frittered away with damaging consequences for both. Logically, they are right but notionally a three-cornered fight would split the secular vote.
It is in this larger interest that the Congress has to be more flexible in its dealing with regional parties even if an understanding with the SP-BSP is perhaps too late. In this respect, the expected-to-be arrogant BJP has actually proved critics wrong by going soft on regional allies. Despite being on a stronger wicket, the BJP has given more seats to JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra. The BJP won 22 seats in Bihar in 2014 but has settled for 17 this time around. Similarly, despite constant carping by the Sena, the latest being demanding proof of the Balakot airstrikes, the BJP has given it almost 50 per cent seats and even promised it chief ministership as the State polls will be held simultaneously. And in UP, both the Congress and the SP-BSP combine face challenges as the BJP is reaching out to smaller parties and propping up Akhilesh’s estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav and Amar Singh to chip away at the SP base. This is in contrast with the Congress, which wants to go the whole hog but doesn’t see the writing on the wall. The Congress had won no seats in Delhi in 2014 but by going alone here without tying up with AAP, it has created a walkover scenario for the BJP. If the Congress is serious about its revival at the national level, it has to make some compromises in this election too. Or else risk being benched again. Because the mahagathbandhan needs to be seen as cohesive rather than opportunist and needs to force other issues as worthy of attention than just Balakot.
Courtesy: The Pioneer