Allies upset at dithering Congress

Arun Srivastava

It might have been far-fetched, but even then the Trinamool Congress’s Young Turk Abhishek Banerjee took pains to fly to Mumbai to meet the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya Thackeray, for exploring opportunity for a third front government to take over in Delhi. What compelled TMC’s Abhishek to call on Uddhav was the latter’s decision to skip the Delhi meet of the INDIA leaders. Keen to grab the opportunity and form INDIA government, Uddhav had nevertheless come to know that the Congress leadership was reluctant to form the government. Obviously, as a mark of protest against the Congress-led decision, he did not go to Delhi.

Congress’s ambiguous reply has INDIA allies turning skeptical and even mulling their own course. Only on June 5, Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge had said a call on reaching out to the Telugu Desam Party and the Janata Dal United, both of which have been former allies of the party, will be taken by the opposition alliance at a meeting on June 6. This has had a dampening effect on the allies. For other INDIA bloc leaders, this looked like a passing the buck tactics. Being the senior partner, the Congress leadership should have taken a strong stand.

While Congress leadership has decided to wait and watch developments unfolding in the NDA camp and “take appropriate steps at the appropriate time”, most of the leaders of INDIA allies, particularly TMC, Shiv Sena (UBT), Samajwadi Party and AAP, were pushing hard for exploring options to shore up the bloc numbers and checkmate the BJP.

There has been a very fine technical difference between the stand of the Congress leadership and other INDIA bloc leaders. The ally leaders did not want to give an opportunity to Narendra Modi to take charge for the third time. Some leaders strongly nursed the feeling that Modi would become even more revengeful once he takes over the office of prime minister. They apprehend that this time he would resort to even more aggressive and offensive machinations to terrorise and weaken the regional parties. They are even sure that RSS instead of putting a check on his actions, would let him act in far more autocratic manner. They apprehend that the political situation could further worsen in the coming days.

The alliance partners strongly nurse the view that a fresh round of ‘Operation Lotus’, or MP/MLA horse-trading by the BJP, would start to break the INDIA rank, and increase the strength of the BJP parliamentary party. Based on the numerical strength, Modi may become the leader of the NDA; and eventually he would prefer to have the majority rule of BJP as that would be more conducive to his dictatorial functional style.

In fact, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, just ahead of the counting of the votes, had conveyed her views to the Congress leadership that they should be ready to grab the situation. TMC sources even confide that its leadership wasn’t at all satisfied with the Congress strategy of taking “appropriate steps” at the “appropriate time”, arguing that the Opposition does not have the luxury of sitting around for the next five years. Earlier at a meeting of the INDIA bloc, Mamata Banerjee had suggested that the leaders of INDIA bloc should be ready to embrace Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar. But her suggestion was rejected, as many felt that the bloc need not spell it out its strategies.

Even before Modi and Amit Shah could start the process of taking the senior BJP and RSS leaders into confidence and opening negotiations with Naidu and Nitish, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee had spoken to SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, precisely on the day of the elections results, and suggested to him to reach out to both N Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP and Nitish Kumar of JD(U). Naidu was virtually the comrade in arms to Mulayam Singh Yadav since the United Front days of the mid-1990s, while Nitish too had a good equation with Mulayam.

Akhilesh held: “The only way to stop the BJP is to take them down region-wise. Whoever is dominant in a particular region gets the responsibility of defeating the BJP. The other opposition parties should help that regional force. In UP, the Samajwadi Party can stop the BJP. So other opposition parties should help us.”

It was his close proximity with Naidu that made Mamata suggest to Akhilesh to open a channel with him. INDIA bloc sources say that it was the dithering on the issue of government formation that provided the right opportunity for Modi to exploit the situation and reach out to Naidu and Nitish.

Though some Congress leaders claim that the party was not reluctant to Naidu being given top position and had in fact conveyed it to him, some in the party confess that it was not a formal and official offer. Moreover, the decision was too late. The leadership should have acted much faster. These sources point out that at a press meet, Rahul did not come out straight on this issue. To a question, in the backdrop when some of NDA partners had been former Congress allies, whether the party had decided to sit in the opposition or make attempts to from the government, Rahul had replied: “We are going to have a meeting with our INDIA alliance partners, I believe the meeting is tomorrow, and these questions will be raised and answered there. We respect our partners and we are not going to make a statement in the press without seeking their opinion.”

There is no denying that Rahul was quite evasive. He could have discussed this issue over phone with the allies. It is worth mentioning that Sanjay Rout of Sena UBT had said: “Uddhavji is keen on taking steps towards staking a claim over forming the government at the Centre because he feels that the people of the country have given us a mandate against the fascist force and to form the government at the Centre. Even if we do not have enough numbers to cross the magic figures right now, we can have it in the future. During the INDIA meeting, most of the members resonated and agreed with this.”

As the mandate of the people was against increasing fascism and dictatorship as well as those destroying the Constitution, the Congress ought to have moved forward to install a government committed to protect peoples’ security and rights. For garnering enough support, Uddhav was also holding talks with several opposition leaders apart from the INDIA bloc leaders. He has been trying to rope in the support of leaders who were tortured and insulted by Modi.

To explore the possibility of forming INDIA government, AAP leaders Sanjay Singh and Raghav Chadha had also met Abhishek Banerjee in Delhi. They had also met at Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut’s residence. In this backdrop, the observation of Akhilesh is quite significant as well. He had said: Expectations in democracy should always thrive. “Khush karne se sarkarein ban rahi hai. Toh khush koi aur bi kar sakta hai (governments are being formed by pleasing people, so others can also please). In democracy… when counting is done… hope and expectations should never be over. Hope and expectations should always be there.”

Of course, the NDA has elected Modi as its leader. But it is a fact that a number of senior BJP leaders and MPs are opposed to him. If the Congress had shown its willingness to form its government, they might have gathered strength to openly oppose him, as the RSS too was not inclined to him. The observation that any such government would have been a ragtag coalition is not correct. It would have provided an opportunity for Naidu and Nitish to reconsider their stand and approach.

The reiteration of support by Naidu and Nitish is vague. It is not politically clear and transparent. While they pledged their complete support to Modi, they did not forget to remind him that they wanted their pound of flesh too. Nitish as usual offered his unreliable promise to be with Modi “for all time” and wished him another term as Prime Minister from 2029. “Humlog pure taur par sabdin ke liye saath rahenge (We shall fully and for all time be together)”. They reassured Modi, but one can’t forget they have a history of switching sides to further their interests.(IPA)