Updated: May 17, 2022 8:01:30 am
IT IS TIME the Congress reconciled with the reality that it no longer dominates the Opposition space, political parties said Monday in a sharp reaction to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s statement, at the party Chintan Shivir the day before, that regional counterparts “lack the ideology” to take on the BJP and RSS.
At a time when regional parties have held the BJP back in several states, even as the Congress has failed, one of its own allies, the JMM, said: “It is Rahul Gandhi’s self-assessment and he is entitled to his opinion, but who gave him the authority to comment on ideology? How are we running the party without any ideology?”
The JMM and Congress run a coalition government in Jharkhand. Party spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya said: “The fact remains that it is these regional parties on which the Congress is dependent for a fight or a win, be it the JMM in Jharkhand or the RJD in Bihar.”
Speaking at the Chintan Shivir, Rahul said the Congress was mounting an ideological resistance to the onslaught of the RSS, unlike regional parties which “lack an ideology” and “have different approaches”.
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The RJD, another Congress ally, also called Rahul’s statement “unfortunate”. RJD MP Manoj Jha said that had the former Congress president been mindful of the outcome of poll fights against the BJP, he would have realised “the ideological and electoral commitment that is brought by such regional outfits, which he said do not have the capacity”.
Jha also repeated RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s advice for the Congress: “There are 220-225 seats where the BJP and Congress are in a direct fight. The Congress should leave the other spaces to regional parties and settle to the idea of a co-traveller.”
Leaders of Congress ally DMK preferred not to comment. Several indicated they were waiting for the party leadership’s stand on the issue.
Recently, another ally, CPM, had said it was the Congress that had a crisis of ideology as it was flirting with “soft Hindutva” and was unable to take on the challenges posed by the BJP. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who is considered a votary of the Congress, said at a party conference in Kochi: “Compared to the past, the Congress today has been considerably weakened. And many in the BJP and the RSS do not see the Congress as a major threat. Because, any of its leaders, at any point of time, can leave the party to join the BJP.”
The TMC and AAP, which have dealt the BJP more than one defeat, were more blunt. TMC Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev said that “bereft of a narrative, face and organisation”, it was the Congress that was handing over seats to the BJP on a platter, in places where the two parties are in a direct fight.
“We are not contesting every seat, but the BJP is strong wherever the Congress is the primary opposition. The BJP has not been able to defeat M K Stalin (Tamil Nadu), Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), or for that matter Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy (Andhra Pradesh), to name a few. In that sense, the BJP is happy to have the Congress as a national party. The reality is, the Congress is unable to defeat the BJP,” Dev, who quit the Congress in August last year, said.
The TMC has drifted away from the Congress after once having been a constituent of the UPA.
Another former ally of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, said while it was not up to it to comment on the internal matters of the Congress, it was worth pondering that if the Congress was the alternative to the BJP, why wasn’t it being seen as one. “The BJP has formed a government at the Centre twice in a row. If the Congress was the only alternative for the people, then why has that alternative failed to come to power?… The fact is that without regional parties, no government is possible even at the Centre,” SP leader Rajendra Chaudhary said told The Indian Express.
National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah, another former Congress partner, said: “Generalisations are always a mistake and to paint all regional parties with the same brush is a diseservice to regional parties. I can’t speak for others but we are definitely not devoid of ideology… We have elected Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists.”
Pointing out that the Congress has had alliances with almost all regional parties, Omar added: “What does that say about Congress ideology? All the way from the Shiv Sena to the PDP to NC, AIADMK, DMK, and at one time with Nitish Kumar’s party as well… At a time when the Congress needs regional parties, it should not attack them. It should focus on attacking the BJP.”
AAP asked how the grand old party thought it was in a position to fight communal forces, given that it remains beset with infighting. “Even in states like Madhya Pradesh, which voted the Congress to power, its candidates put themselves up for sale. The party has no presence in major states like UP and Tamil Nadu. And what is national and regional? For years, the Congress has been a junior partner to parties like the SP, DMK,” AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh said.
Senior Akali Dal leader Prem Singh Chandumajra said it were the BJP and Congress that were “two sides of the same coin”. “They neglect the diversity of distinct geography, language and culture of regions while pursuing their national policies… If anyone can give a fight to the Congress or the BJP, it’s the regional parties.”
Talasani Srinivas Yadav, a senior leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and a minister, said: “Rahul Gandhi should first consider the condition of his party all over India and then make such comments.”
Refusing to come on record, a leader of the YSR Congress Party (formed after a split in the Congress) said: “Did we not decimate the Congress, which is a national party, in Andhra Pradesh? If we can take on one national party, we are strong enough to take on any other national party.”
BJD spokesperson Lenin Mohanty said: “The results that regional parties have been showing in their respective states is evidence enough of the efficacy of these parties. From Delhi to Kerela, regional parties are being trusted by the people and given more and more responsibilities.”
The Congress’s slow eclipse showed “it is itself fighting an ideological battle”, Mohanty added. “In all probability, Rahul Gandhi was in a mood to joke. They should first evaluate themselves properly, then cast aspersions either on national parties or regional parties. The problem with the Congress right now is, it is unable to evaluate.”
Jha noted that Rahul’s own statement ran contrary to the declaration adopted by the Congress at the Chintan Shivir about keeping options open for alliances with “like-minded parties”.
with inputs from Delhi, Ranchi, Lucknow, Srinagar, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar
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