HAVE YOU noticed that more than BJP, it is Congress’ putative allies in the near-moribund I.N.D.I.A. bloc who are rubbing salt into the wounds of the rejected and dejected Congress leadership? The likes of Nitish Kumar, Akhilesh Yadav, Uddhav Thackeray seem to suggest that had Congress accommodated its partners, the party would not have faced such a drubbing in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. The truth is that regional parties had very little presence in the three states. After all, Akhilesh had made much to-do about Congress denying him a couple of seats in Madhya Pradesh, arguing that the I.N.D.I.A. bloc was for parliamentary and not state polls. But when in sheer anger he fielded 72 candidates, the sum total of all the votes polled by the Samajwadi Party was a piddly 0.43 per cent. Likewise, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contested 205 seats in the three states, forfeiting deposits in 201 and polling fewer votes than NOTA.
It brings me to my central point. Don’t bother about concretising the dotted bloc. It is such a waste of time and energy. Congress is better served fighting the elections in the Hindi heartland on its own rather than accommodating small fries who, without adding significantly to the vote share, inevitably cause avoidable dissonance and discord. The so-called I.N.D.I.A. bloc may be good for making headlines on a thin news day with its periodic enclaves, but when it comes to the accretion of additional votes to the kitty of BJP’s main challenger, the smaller parties fare badly.
Apart from the fact that the voter intrinsically is averse to the ‘khichdi sarkars’, even in purely utilitarian terms, there is little that the Congress part of the melange, by far the largest constituent of the opposition bloc, can gain by expanding the alliance further. In Jharkhand, Bihar, and Maharashtra, it is already part of the anti-BJP alliance. Why should it go out on a limb to accommodate the ambitions of a Nitish Kumar or a Lalu Prasad outside their home states? Congress shares power with them in Jharkhand and Bihar and is part of the opposition alliance with Shiv Sena (U) and Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra. These regional parties have no footprint outside those states. So, how will they help Congress beat BJP in, say, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan?
Also, in states where the regional parties are dominant, say, in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, their leaders are not exactly desperate to forge an opposition bloc. If it fructifies without unsettling them in any way, it is fine, but if it doesn’t, that will be fine too. Stalin and Mamata Banerjee are sitting pretty, aware the alliance has little to offer, while it will make demands on them. In any case, Congress is already a minor partner of the DMK-led alliance, whereas, in West Bengal, a three-way partnership between the Trinamool Congress, Congress, and CPM is hard to even contemplate. Banerjee is unlikely to yield much ground to accommodate the oversized claims of Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury or Sitaram Yechury.
While in Karnataka, and now in Telangana, Congress rules solo; in Kerala, it heads a longstanding anti-Marxist United Democratic Front. In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, not unlike his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, has shown little interest in opposition politics, happy to support the Centre and secure a better deal for their states.
In other words, the leaders making noises about reviving the I.N.D.I.A. bloc are either rootless wonders such as D Raja, or nurse national ambitions without having the requisite pull to make an impression outside their home states. Even the relatively newbie AAP is not exactly dying for an alliance, though finding itself in the crosshairs of investigating agencies, it seeks a sympathetic shoulder outside its own little tent for support. For example, in Punjab, AAP is in power but Congress is the main opposition party. An alliance between the two will look highly incongruous.
Above all else, in a Lok Sabha poll, the BJP vote increases by about an additional 10 per cent because the voters want to see Modi as prime minister. The opposition stratagem of simply pooling votes is doomed to fail. The voter wants to know the prime ministerial candidate. The hydra-headed I.N.D.I.A. will have multiple claimants, but Congress on its own can present its President Mallikarjun Kharge as its prime ministerial candidate and leave the rest to the voter.