Congress’s new chief Mallikarjun Kharge today signalled a big shift in the stance of the party in terms of an opposition coalition — one that was apparently decided at the party’s just-concluded plenary session in Raipur.
“We are not naming a PM candidate. We are not telling who will lead. We want to fight together,” Mr Kharge said in his address at the birthday celebrations of ally MK Stalin in Chennai. “All like-minded opposition parties must come together in this fight against divisive forces. We should continue to strengthen our alliance ahead of 2024 polls,” he added.
In earlier instances, as in the run-up to the 2019 general elecions, the Congress had made it clear that it was leading the alliance. It had upset key opposition leaders, especially the ones with Prime Ministerial ambitions. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Telangana counterpart K Chandrashekar Rao are two of the cases in point.
This time, with 2024 elections round the corner and with other alliance partners like Nitish Kumar asking it to take the lead, the Congress passed a resolution on Saturday, the final day of the plenary session in Raipur.
In the resolution, the Congress had called for unity of secular and socialist forces, but remained silent on taking the lead. It was seen as a key climbdown to ensure there are no stumbling blocks in seat adjustments.
The idea of a united front against the BJP took a beating in 2019, with Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee and Mr Rao making clear their antipathy about a Congress leadership. Mr Rao, in fact, dubbed Rahul Gandhi “a buffo on”, bringing much cheer to the BJP camp, which thought they were on the threshold of gaining an ally.
Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav could not be brought on board either, with the seat sharing talks for the assembly elections falling through months before. Akhilesh Yadav had said he was “thankful” that there’s no alliance with the Congress. “It is because of their faulty policies that the BJP is in power today,” he had said.
The divide in the Opposition camp brought bigger returns for the BJP, which had time and again taunted the Opposition, saying if they ever came to power, they would have a different Prime Minister for every day of the week.
The election pushed the BJP score to above 300, from the 282 seats it won in 2014. The Congress ended up with a second crushing defeat in a row, leading to Mr Gandhi stepping down from the party’s top post and the eventual election of a non-Gandhi to it.
In his message, Mr Stalin, a staunch ally of the Congress, made it clear that an opposition alliance without the Congress “will not work”.
“The loss is ours if we decide our national politics on the basis of political differences between states. Political parties should rise above differences and stand together as a unified force to defeat the BJP,” he said.
To that end, “Non-Congress initiatives will not work. Post-poll alliance will not work too. Talks of Third Front is pointless — parties opposed to the BJP should understand this simple arithmetic,” he added.
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