THE MOOD of bravado and confidence in the Congress turned into realism on Tuesday, as the numbers came in from Karnataka. Even as the party leadership tried to salvage the situation, party leaders and allies said it was time for the Congress to learn the “right lessons”, shed its “rigid” approach and opt for “tactical alliances” with regional parties to take on the BJP in 2019.
While dissecting and analysing the Karnataka verdict, Congress leaders looked for the larger message. The momentum gained by the party post-Gujarat elections has been lost. With assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh just months away, and the larger Lok Sabha battle a year from now, the party will have to go back to the drawing broad and rework its strategies, many felt. The need for an electoral understanding with the BSP in Madhya Pradesh was also discussed.
Regional forces like the Trinamool Congress, NCP, DMK and the Left said the Congress should read the writing on the wall and join hands with state parties if it was serious about taking on the BJP. They said the Congress should take the lead in forging alliances, but without setting any condition. The NCP said the Congress should forget about the prime ministerial candidate issue for now.
Interestingly, many in the Congress shared similar views.
At least three former Union ministers questioned party chief Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning. “Veteran leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Oommen Chandy, Tarun Gogoi, Ahmed Patel… they should have been involved in strategising, identifying seats where you can help the JD(S) in return for their support in some other seat. K C Venugopal cannot do all this. Siddaramaiah was against an alliance with the JD(S) because he did not want anybody else to become the chief minister. The JD(S) did not want him to be the CM, the high command should have factored in all these issues. Rahul, in his campaign speeches, attacked the JD(S) more than the BJP. Siddaramaiah tactfully trapped him, elections are not child’s play,” said a senior party leader.
Congress leaders said the party, by extending support to JD(S), although belatedly, was sending out a message of flexibility. “That is the message Sonia Gandhi is trying to send out, that we can do anything to keep the BJP out of power,” said a senior party leader.
“Congress should take the leadership to unite all the democratic, secular and anti-BJP parties, and it should be well-planned. Our planning may have to be changed state to state. Not only from a national perspective, but from a regional perspective. For example, in Kerala, the Congress and CPI(M) may not be able to go together. But outside Kerala, we can go together. Similarly, what is our strategy with Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar? Congress has to be at the forefront,” said former Union minister K V Thomas.
West Bengal CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “If the Congress had gone into an alliance with the JD(S), the result would have been different. Very different.”
Congratulations to the winners of the Karnataka elections. For those who lost, fight back. If Congress had gone into an alliance with the JD(S), the result would have been different. Very different
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) May 15, 2018
The NCP, DMK and Left agreed. “We have been saying that secular parties should come together to defeat the BJP. Congress was over-confident. And they never made any attempt. Unfortunately, they don’t learn their lesson. As the biggest party, and as the ruling party (in Karnataka), they should have taken the initiative to have an understanding with secular parties… whether it was possible or not, an attempt should have been made with the JD(S),” CPI general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy said.
“The Congress should have allied with the JD(S). The problem with the party is that they want everything. They should have told the JD(S) that you run the show, we will support you, and in Parliament you give us more seats. It would have helped them in 2019. My advice to the Congress is that barring few states where there are no regional parties, give a major share to the regional parties and take a major share for Parliament elections,” said DMK’s T K S Elangovan.
Airing similar views, NCP’s Tariq Anwar said the Congress got more votes than the BJP in Karnataka.
“This is not the defeat of the Congress or the leadership. A prior understanding with the JD(S) would have worked better… The role of regional parties is very important, and the Congress should try to take all opposition, all regional parties…, into confidence and go for an alliance. If you want to defeat the BJP, you (Congress) will have to go with the regional parties.”
He, however, added that any alliance without the Congress would not work, given its pan-India footprint.
Former union minister Ashwani Kumar, supporting the Congress’s move to extend support to the JD(S), said “it was the only logical and correct decision to make. This gesture of the Congress will strengthen the secular alliance for the 2019 elections.”