The Congress party, after two successive drubbings in the general elections, is looking to form a grand alliance of like-minded Opposition parties to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2024.
While the concept is good, yet not novel, similar attempts having failed in the past, the implementation is a challenge. While the party gets a better shot at government formation it risks ceding further space to regional parties if it opts for such a formation.
Reasons why Congress should be wary:
1. Trust factor
Let’s first take a look at the 14 parties that were present at Rahul Gandhi’s breakfast meeting - Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, Abdullah’s National Conference, Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, Akhilesh’’s Samajwadi Party, Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Mamata’s Trinamool Congress.
Communist Party of India, Community Party of India (Marxist), DMK, Shiv Sena, Kerala Congress (M), Loktantrik Janata Dal, Indian Union Muslim League and Revolutionary Socialist Party were also in attendance.
JMM, TMC and Shiv Sena have partnered / done business with the BJP in the past. NCP has in the past offered outside support to the BJP in Maharashtra. The rumour mills keep buzzing about a possible BJP-NCP tie up in the state in the near future.
So, there is no guarantee that the parties may not rock the boat again. Regional parties have a flexible stand on key national issues and are more concerned with the development of the state and their continuance in power at any cost.
To prevent such a mishap, the Congress will need to request the regional parties to contest on its symbol, a tough ask at this juncture.
2. Regional parties don’t have pan-India support
Most parties which are cosying up to Congress do not have any significant vote share outside their home state as shown in the table below.
TMC gets 99% of its votes from West Bengal
SP gets 99% of its votes from UP
NCP gets 99% of its votes from Maharashtra
RJD gets 98% of its votes from Bihar
CPM gets 82% of its votes from Kerala and Bengal
On the other hand, Congress has votes in each state. Even in states like UP and Bihar where it has lost considerable support, Congress has a 6%-7% vote share.
The Congress received its highest votes from Madhya Pradesh, and this accounted for just 10.6% of its total votes received in 2019. The maximum votes BJP has from one state is UP, which accounts for 18.6% of its total votes polled.
The votes received by Congress are mostly of anti-BJP type. The party can transfer with minor leakages these votes to regional parties such as TMC in Bengal and SP in UP, and help them win against BJP. Since Congress is weaker in these states, it can’t bargain for many seats to contest.
The Congress is likely to get a paltry number of seats in these states as part of seat distribution but is expected to help regional parties edge past BJP for the sake of Opposition unity. However, in many states, where the Congress faces the BJP, it is not likely to get any support from regional parties as they don’t have any presence in those states. Not a win-win proposition for Congress at all.
3. Party may not be able to project its own PM candidate
The grand alliance has many Prime Ministerial aspirants like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee. They may not allow Congress to project its own PM candidate and instead contest on a collective leadership basis. This would undermine the Congress party's authority to lead the alliance.
Regional parties are already becoming the main Opposition to BJP in many states and this would further harm the prospects of the grand old party.
4. Risk of losing support / getting further wiped out in states
Alliance with regional parties puts at risk the Congress party’s leftover (bachaa-khucha) support in states where the party is weak. For example, in states like Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, party risks becoming irrelevant and transfer of votes could result in permanent loss of support of those communities backing it.
5. Risk of being branded as opportunist
Some of the parties which may be part of the grand alliance have in the past been arch rivals like Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress, to name a few. The only glue which is bringing these parties together is anti-Modism.
These parties have nothing in common, no common minimum program, no ideological similarities, no blueprint to take India forward, no vision. The alliance risks being seen as opportunist, stitched only for the sake of grabbing power and defeating Modi in 2024.
It could be viewed as a negative formation and not a positive grouping. This could alienate a section of voters.
To sum up, the Congress party needs to carefully weigh its pros and cons before committing to such a mahagathbandhan.