Congress at allies’ mercy

Once big brother, now vulnerable to bullying by Pawar, Lalu and Omar

New Delhi | Updated: February 13, 2014 9:01:49 am
It’s Pawar who’s dictating terms now. With Sonia Gandhi. (File Photo) It’s Pawar who’s dictating terms now. With Sonia Gandhi. (File Photo)

Trying to bring along what it calls like-minded secular parties to take on Narendra Modi, the ruling Congress finds itself faced with allies that are for once assertive after having seemed, until recently, reconciled to the Congress’s big-brotherly attitude.

After the NCP refused to part with even one seat from its quota in Maharashtra, Lalu Prasad of the RJD is learnt to have hardened his stand in the seat-sharing negotiations. In the Kashmir valley, where it plans to contest one seat this time, the Congress finds itself intimidated by its coalition partner in the state, the National Conference, whose chief minister recently threatened to resign over the creation of new administrative units. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress is eager to patch up with the DMK but M Karunanidhi is yet to play ball. In UP, the Congress is eager to have a tie-up with the BSP but the latter has nipped any such possibility in the bud declaring it would go it alone.

No wonder Congress leaders have a stock answer to every question about talks on alliances: “The A K Antony committee (the party subgroup on pre-poll alliances) has not submitted its report yet.”

Lalu, who kept on extending unsolicited support to UPA II despite being consistently denied a place in the government, is learnt to have raised the stakes. He had been desperately knocking on 10 Janpath until recently, when the Congress had been weighing the option of going with the JD(U). In 2009, the RJD’s refusal to give more than three seats to the Congress in Bihar had led to the breakdown of negotiations.

Lalu has had two meetings with Rahul Gandhi and one with Sonia Gandhi but the stalemate on seat shares continues, much to the exasperation of LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan, who admitted at an interaction with The Indian Express team that he was completely in the dark about the status of the Congress-RJD-LJP alliance. Rahul is said to have demanded at least 15 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats but the RJD is not willing to give it more than 10.

“We just want the Congress to tell us their candidates and we are ready to accept what they want. They don’t have candidates for even half a dozen seats. We are saying that even RJD MPs would be supporting the Congress only after elections. So, why this insistence on contesting so many seats and losing them to the BJP?” a senior RJD leader told The Indian Express.

Leaders of all three parties, however, remain confident of sorting out the differences over seat-sharing, simply because none of them has any other options.

“Everybody suddenly appears to have grown teeth. But it is understandable in the given circumstances,” a senior Congress functionary said, an admission of the party’s vulnerability at a time when all pre-poll surveys are writing it off.

In Jammu & Kashmir, the Congress is learnt to be in favour of going it alone in the assembly elections but of continuing the alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. Though seat-sharing negotiations are yet to start, the Congress is preparing to demand least one of the Lok Sabha seats in the valley, either Anantnag or Baramulla. The National Conference has, however, already started asserting itself as was evident over the proposal to create new administrative units. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah chose to remain silent over reports about his plan to resign over the issue, but the Congress was quick to pacify him.

The Congress’s allies and UPA constituents have chosen various ways to send their common message across. As the Congress insisted on a 27:21 share in Maharashtra, where it wanted to take Kolhapur out of the the NCP’s quota of 22, NCP union minister Praful Patel went public in virtually giving a clean chit to Modi, saying the court verdict on the post-Godhra riots should not be questioned. A few days later, NCP chief Sharad Pawar confirmed reports about his meeting with Modi last month. No wonder the next meeting of NCP leaders with Antony turned out to be the last one as the Congress gave up on its demand and even left the issue of swapping of constituencies — to enable Youth Congress president Rajev Satav  to contest from the Hingoli seat — to the NCP’s discretion.

Early this week, when Farooq Abdullah expressed reservations against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, Congress leaders were quick to read between the lines.
“There is nothing strange about the allies’ attitude. Every party acts in its own interests. Time is the biggest leveller,” an AICC general secretary summed up, philosophically.

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