Congress leader Sonia Gandhi is likely to kick-start a round of conclave politics in a bid to cement opposition unity and narrow down the trust deficit among various parties. As a first step, the Congress has invited opposition parties for the swearing-in ceremony to the Karnataka Assembly to be held on Monday. The Congress, with the help of other opposition parties, plans to target the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but more than that, the Narendra Modi and Amit Shah brand of politics. This is because the top Congress leadership believes that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) contributed in a small measure to the campaign that democracy is in danger. While conceding that the RSS continues to be devoted to the idea of a Hindu Rashtra, these leaders say that a bigger project of saving democracy will gain momentum from this group. The Congress will make a conscious effort to deflect the charge that it tends to dominate political alliances but leaders also say the bottomline is clear: Sonia Gandhi will be the chairman and convenor of any front that the party might decide to float and leaders like Sharad Pawar, who might want to play that role, will be gently dissuaded from doing so. A common minimum programme (CMP) that will be hammered out in Karnataka is likely to be a base document for other drafts that will be refined as the 2019 Lok Sabha elections draw near. But more than this, it is the tactical part of fielding candidates for the general elections that will be tricky during negotiations. Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress has already said that the general elections must see a one-on-one fight – one candidate of the BJP against one of the opposition in each state. But Rahul Gandhi has gone on record saying that the Congress, as a national party, will have to give up more.
The immediate test will be the Chhattisgarh assembly elections, where the gap between the Congress and BJP was barely 1 percentage point in the 2013 assembly election. Here, a small vote swing represented by the new political party formed by Ajit Jogi could upset both sides. Congress leaders say a seamless power-sharing arrangement in Karnataka will give heft and credibility to the belief of opposition parties that the Congress will not gobble them up in states where it has a presence but regional parties are strong – like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Leaders will now work out representation of parties in the Karnataka government based on the numbers. The Congress and the JD(S) are likely to opt for an arrangement where representatives of the two parties will be chief minister for two and half years each. The Congress has named Siddaramaiah as leader of the legislature party. But the party will have to decide how to reward DK Shivakumar and others who micromanaged the operation.