The idea of Mahagathbandhan seems to be getting a little complicated. The Congress’ victory in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has rightly made Rahul Gandhi ambitious of putting up a credible opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in the general elections of 2019 and perhaps even snatching power as part of a joint platform of diverse Opposition parties. However, the swearing-in ceremonies in these three states, although expected to be a grand show of Opposition unity, did not live up to the hype, with important regional leaders such as Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee giving them a miss. This was unlike the swearing in of H.D. Kumaraswamy as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, where all three regional satraps were present. In fact it was the first instance of archrivals Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati sharing the dais. So the absence of the duo—who are likely to join hands in Uttar Pradesh to take on the BJP in 2019—from the Congress jamboree becomes all the more significant. In fact, both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati were missing from the Opposition’s show of unity a day ahead of the Assembly election results too. This no-show by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party is being interpreted as their unwillingness to play second fiddle to the Congress as far as UP is concerned, even though the two are supporting it in MP, where Rahul Gandhi’s party has not got a majority. They have reasons to be concerned. Both have had their fair share of trouble dealing with the Congress, with the latter refusing to part with the number of seats that they wanted to contest from the states. They cannot be blamed for their apprehensions. Congress has been sending mixed signals when it comes to alliances. It is keen to piggyback on regional parties in the latter’s strongholds, particularly in states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and even West Bengal, where the Congress high command is pushing its state unit not to oppose Mamata Banerjee. However, when it came to striking alliances in the states that it won in the recently concluded Assembly elections, Congress was not keen to give a decent number of seats to the BSP, after which, the SP too refused to join hands with it. In Karnataka, which was considered to be another stronghold state for the Congress, it was so confident—some will say, over-confident—of reaching the majority mark on its own that it did not strike a pre-poll alliance with Janata Dal Secular. It was only when it fell short of the majority mark massively, that it hurriedly cobbled up an alliance with Kumaraswamy’s party and in the process was forced to give up the CM’s chair to its alliance partner. In MP, Congress’ complaint was that the BSP was seeking its stronghold seats, the reason why the alliance did not work. In retrospect, considering the fight in MP was so close, the BSP played a spoilsport in many seats that went to the BJP, seats that could have gone to the “grand alliance”, giving it a clear majority. Instead, the Congress made it an unnecessarily tense election for itself, stopped a whisker short of the majority mark, allowed the BJP to breathe down its neck, and ended up taking support from both the SP and BSP. Even after a series of electoral reverses Congress still seems to be labouring under the notion that alliances are a one-way street, where the bigger party keeps taking, and the smaller parties keep giving. This, incidentally, is becoming a problem with the BJP too. But that is a topic for a different editorial. The SP and BSP will have to feel extremely generous to want to ally with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, for they do not need the Congress, which is a lightweight in that crucial state. In fact, Akhilesh Yadav’s alliance with Rahul Gandhi hurt the SP more than helped it in the Assembly elections in 2017. Amid this, DMK leader M.K. Stalin’s endorsement of Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial face of the Opposition alliance is, as pointed out by Mamata Banerjee, premature The fact is, all the major Opposition leaders are fancying themselves as possible Prime Ministers and are unwilling to go to the elections under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. And why would they? All of them are seasoned politicians and have considerable administrative experience, which Rahul Gandh does not. His track record as a politician too is not enviable, the three recent victories notwithstanding. While the three victories have energised the Congress cadre to an extent, but its presence on the ground is negligible in many states. The regional parties’ aim is to win the maximum number of seats in their strongholds, and take matters from there, post poll. Congress does not have a place in their scheme of things, as yet. In fact, the Mahagathbandhan at present is more about the SP-BSP alliance in UP, than anything else. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee does not want an alliance with Congress. The “grand alliance experiment” has failed in Telangana, and is likely to fail in Andhra Pradesh. It may work in Karnataka, but it will not work in Kerala. In this scenario, the Mahagathbandhan is still looking more like a notional alliance than a real one. For the idea to materialise, Congress will have to take a back seat in the leadership stakes and let the regional parties drive the agenda.