It is very evident that the United Progressive Alliance led by Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, may disintegrate after the Assembly elections, paving the way for a new coalition of Opposition parties, which would not necessarily be headed by a Congress leader.
The new set of permutations and combinations being witnessed in West Bengal for instance suggest that the Congress may find itself isolated, if it prevents a robust leader from coming forward and taking over the reins of the possible new alliance. In Bengal, the Congress is contesting in partnership with the Left parties, while two other constituents of the UPA, the RJD and NCP, are siding with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. It effectively implies that the UPA in its current form has already collapsed and the trend may continue, since the Congress, which formed the nucleus is no longer in any position to dictate terms to its allies.
In Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar is already in total command and even many Congress leaders who are in awe of him, are willing to shift loyalties if the high command tries to interfere with the political scenario in the state. The Home Minister, Anil Deshmukh, who is in the middle of a controversy following startling accusations made against him by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh, is being totally defended by the Maharashtra strongman, who could probably be the leader of any future Opposition alliance nationally.
In Tamil Nadu, the DMK has given 25 seats to the Congress and has made it clear that it is the grand old party that needs its support and not the other way round. If the Congress does well in the Assembly polls, it would be solely due to the DMK and not because of any of its own leaders.
The case in several other states is similar. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has virtually no chance of redeeming its position despite the fact that its strongest leader, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is doing her best. The fact is that her best is not good enough, since the party lacks an organisational base and has to face the bitter ground reality. Former alliance partner, Samajwadi Party has realised that any association with the Congress would prove to be a liability and that the SP should maintain a safe distance.
The Assam story after the demise of Tarun Gogoi is also over, with the BJP on course of repeating its performance, thanks to Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had to leave the Congress after being humiliated by Rahul Gandhi and on being advised to find greener pastures by three top Congress leaders.
The Congress has not been able to put its own house in order and thus is allowing stronger partners to dictate terms. The issues raised by the G-23 leaders have found resonance amongst the grassroots workers, who too, want that internal elections in the organisation should take place to make the party stronger. However, sycophants and lightweight leaders who have constituted the coterie around the high command are giving the matter a twist.
The fact of the matter is that the Gandhis, for the time being, have lost the acceptance nationally and the sooner they realise this, the better it would be for the party. It is true that in most Parliamentary elections held over the past four decades, people have voted against the ruling dispensation and rarely for the incumbent. However, while voting against the government in power, they also look for an alternative. Therefore, the biggest insurance for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is that people do not see the alternative in any of the Gandhis.
It is in this context that the Opposition has to search for a person who could challenge the BJP leadership and has a track record, which proves that he or she has the capacity to deliver. Politically speaking, it means that if Mamata Banerjee is able to hold on to her own despite a strong challenge from the BJP in Bengal, she could become eligible for a pivotal role nationally. This may also hold true for someone like Sharad Pawar, whose acceptance in the Opposition ranks is cutting across party lines.
Within the Congress, there are several leaders, who, if given an opportunity, can steer the party out of trouble. These include the former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Kamal Nath, who is not only well versed with electoral politics but has the capacity to lead. There is Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who can help in stitching the party together. Similarly, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the former Haryana Chief Minister and the only mass leader in the party can provide a narrative which would also make sense to the agitating farmers.
There is no attempt within the Congress to ensure that its primary position does not further get diluted. The high command is unable to foresee that a situation may develop where in the post Assembly polls scenario, either Sharad Pawar or Mamata Banerjee may give a call to Opposition leaders to come forward and help build up a strong front on the lines of UPA. This is when some of the G-23 leaders, without severing their links with the Congress, to begin with, may join hands with serious minded leaders from other political outfits.
The circumstances have changed since 2004 when UPA came to power. The Congress lacks the ability to keep the partners together. The UPA’s end is near. Between us.