Shrinking in states, Congress pins hopes on other Opposition parties for 2024 battle.

 

New Delhi: Congress’ interim president Sonia Gandhi’s efforts may have yielded some positive result initially with 19 Opposition parties attending the meeting convened by her. But what remains to be seen is how long this initial show of unity is visible in future. If Sonia Gandhi manages to keep the flock together for long, then it may be a challenge for the Narendra Modi government.

For now, Sonia Gandhi has got all these parties to agree to hit the streets from 20 September against the Modi government. This is for the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power seven years ago that the Opposition is being seen united. But the bigger question is whether this unity will last till the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, as all the parties have their own vested interests. What makes the question more relevant is that no political party from UP was present in the meeting. While nobody represented Samajwadi Party, BSP and AAP were not invited. What was surprising was Akhilesh Yadav sending a letter to Sonia Gandhi in this digital age, expressing his inability to attend the meeting due to being in a far-flung area.

UP is the most important state as far as the opposition’s electoral ambition is concerned. The Opposition’s “Delhi mission’ will end in a fiasco if it could not do anything substantial in UP. Another big question is whether the Opposition parties will accept Rahul Gandhi as leader. The major issue with the Opposition is the choice of a face for the 2024 battle. What the country has seen since 2014 is that with PM Narendra Modi at the helm, electoral politics has become charismatic face-centric. The BJP has won most of the electoral battle because of PM Modi’s charisma.

So, the problem with the Opposition is that it does not have any leader from the Hindi belt who can challenge PM Modi. Mamata Banerjee’s influence is limited within Bengal. Similarly, the clout of Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar is confined in Maharashtra. Now, the Congress has to take a call on leadership. But the reality is that Mamata Banerjee and Pawar will not accept Rahul Gandhi as leader.

Analysts believe that Congress is still on the wrong track. First, the grand old party is without any permanent president. Second, the party is going by the impression that the BJP will not be able to repeat its 2019 performance in 2024 due to caste politics not favouring it and the saffron party’s weakness in South Indian states. Congress was under the same impression before 2019 parliamentary polls. It was expecting to repeat the 2004 experiment for government formation by bagging 190-200 seats. But it came a cropper. Congress was expected to change its entire working style after the 2019 defeat. But Rahul Gandhi added to the crisis by resigning as president then. Analysts say that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra continue to ignore the fact that Congress needs to be strengthened and states need to be won before setting any major goal. Congress cannot stage a comeback by simply banking on “weaknesses” of the Modi government.

Moreover, the situation has come to such a pass that the Congress stands decimated in states such as Bihar and UP due to its overreliance on other parties among other reasons. Its condition in Maharashtra, Bengal, Odisha, NE states and Gujarat is not any better. Its allies like Shiv Sena and NCP keep threatening it regularly. Sonia Gandhi is aware that decisions taken by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra since 2013 have plunged the party into such a deep crisis. Even as Sonia Gandhi tries to unite the Opposition, she will see the first shocker from UP itself. SP is not willing to go with Congress. Similarly, there is no possibility of BSP and AAP joining hands with it. Similarly, Mamata Banerjee and Left parties, who attended Sonia Gandhi’s meeting, cannot come together. Mamata Banerjee will distance herself from the Congress in the north east as well. These leaders do respect Sonia Gandhi, but the real issue is about choosing a face who can lead the Opposition. Therefore, this issue of leadership continues to haunt the Congress and the Opposition, even as they try to put up a show of strength in a bid to repeat 2004 in 2024.