One need not be partisan to either side in India’s political theatre to see the obvious contrast in how the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are managing their campaigns. The BJP has its leadership, messaging and slogan, campaign, organisational machine, and, most significantly, a range of alliances across key states in place. These alliances — particularly in Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu — came at the cost of the BJP’s own ambitions of growth, but it conceded for the overall objective of returning to power. But with three weeks to go before the first phase of the polls, the Congress appears to be struggling on a range of fronts. This is most stark in how long it is taking to stitch up alliances. And it could not be more ironical, for over the past year, the Congress has been at the forefront of championing the idea of a united opposition to take on Narendra Modi.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) were clear they would not give the Congress more than what the two regional parties saw as its rightful share. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav regretted giving 100 seats to the Congress in the last assembly polls; BSP’s Mayawati did not want the Congress to revive and capture the Dalit base riding on the back of the alliance. For its part, the Congress wanted to punch above its weight and felt that not contesting a majority of seats would impede its long-term revival. The outcome: the Congress is likely to do poorly in UP; the opposition will cut into each other’s votes, helping the BJP. The more worrying delays have been in Bihar and Delhi. In Bihar, the Congress is a marginal force; there is no doubt that Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is the leading opposition and has a loyal vote base of Muslims and Yadavs. Here too, the Congress has been seeking more seats than the RJD is willing to give. In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been keen on an alliance with the Congress. Arithmetic suggests that together, the two forces can put up a formidable challenge to the BJP. But the Congress has been immersed in a prolonged, internal debate on whether to ally with the force it blames for discrediting the UPA-2. In Bengal, after prolonged talks with the Left, the Congress has decided to go alone although last ditch attempts are on to revive the original idea.
Irrespective of the fate of the alliances, the delay has serious costs. Unlike the BJP, where the organisational machine often propels a candidate’s campaign, in the Congress, the candidate is all-important. And with three weeks to go, the party’s candidates, supporters and wider electorate in key states do not know which seats the Congress would contest on; and who would be the candidates. Also note that the Lok Sabha constituencies are large, with many having between 1.5 to 2.5 million voters. There is barely any time for the Congress candidates in these states to cover entire constituencies. The party leadership must be more proactive, be decisive, and enter the electoral battlefield for 2019 to be a true contest.
Mar 20, 2019 07:35 IST
Opinion | A congress of shaky alliances | editorials – Hindustan Times