IN THE ABSENCE of any discernible wave in favour of any political party or leader, as had happened in 2014, the ensuing general elections appear to be headed for a battle between alliance partners. Going by the recent developments, it is evident that while the NDA alliance is getting pro-active, the UPA is losing ground due to lack of initiative.
Congress, which is the largest component of UPA, does not appear to have learnt lessons from the past and continues to suffer from inertia. This despite Congress president Rahul Gandhi attempting to put up an aggressive stand on "chowkidar chor hai” theme. The party is failing to reach out to its allies while the BJP leadership has gone all out to secure alliances and be pragmatic even if some of these partners are demanding more than their share of seats.
Congress lost the initiative in the crucial Uttar Pradesh by not engaging with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party who were supposed to be part of the mahagatbandhan. The two parties went ahead to forge an alliance and left the Congress with only two uncontested seats. Congress reacted not by talking to the two parties but leaving out just seven seats for the two parties. It is clear that there is no possibility of a meeting ground now that the elections are getting closer. This may give advantage to the BJP which has been finding itself slipping in the state and elsewhere.
In the latest political initiative in Goa, Congress again displayed the same inertia and let the BJP forge alliances and again form the government. After the 2017 Assembly elections, Congress had emerged the single largest party but had failed to stake claim and let the BJP form the government with some help from the Governor.
After the unfortunate and untimely death of Manohar Parrikar, who was a popular leader, the Congress has again found itself beaten to the post by some quick action by the BJP. It reached out to two smaller parties, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Goa Forward Party, which had fought elections opposed to the BJP, and engineered defection by two of the Congress MLAs to leave the Congress stranded.
Parmod Sawant taking oath as Goa CM
It is not that the BJP has adopted fair methods to retain power in the state. It has agreed to two posts of deputy chief ministers to appease the new partners. For a 40-member Assembly, such a formation is certainly not deserving or desired. Also it must be the first time ever that there would be fewer number of ministers from the main party (BJP) than those of coalition partners. The new government has 11 ministers and seven berths have gone to coalition partners and independents.
BJP has again taken initiative in reaching to its critic Shiv Sena, even though it is part of the Sangh Parivar, to strike a deal for the Lok Sabha elections. The party’s chief political strategist Amit Shah has agreed to withdraw claim from certain seats to ensure that the partnership is not broken. Similarly the party has gone in for a tie up in Odisha and is making strenuous efforts to forge alliances in the South. Also it has succeeded in achieving in Assam what appeared to be impossible a month ago. Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had withdrawn support to the BJP led government in Assam following the passage of Citizenship Act. AGP has been organising protests all over the state but the BJP was able to get the party back into its fold.
Congress, on the other hand, appears to be struggling to strike such alliances despite the initial advantage of almost all non-BJP parties deciding to join hands to form a mahagatbandhan. That prospect now appears to be getting dimmer. Even in West Bengal, where it is a rival of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, the prospects of an alliance are getting more difficult.
Congress must also realise that it cannot hope to make a mark or seek votes only on a negative campaign or trying to convince the public that "Chowkidar chor hai”. It must come out with what it has to offer. The sooner is does so, the better it would be for it.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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