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Congress state units disagree with central leadership over alliances

The trend signals how the party could be going back to the era where its regional satraps used to be influential and could stand up to even such leaders as Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel

Archis Mohan  |  New Delhi 

Rahul Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Tribute

Several of the Congress party state units are currently at odds with the central leadership over the question of striking alliances and seat adjustments.

The trend signals how the party could be going back to the era where its regional satraps used to be influential and could stand up to even such leaders as Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. However, this had changed after Indira Gandhi came to lead the Congress and systematically replaced strong leaders in the state with darbaris and sycophants.

West Bengal

In West Bengal, the Congress state unit is split in two over whether it should align with the Trinamool Congress or not. A section of the party's leadership wants to have a seat adjustment with the Trinamool Congress.

However, senior state unit leaders like Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury oppose aligning with the Trinamool. Chowdhury also has the support of the rank and file, which has suffered the brunt of the alleged violence by Trinamool cadres on Congress workers in villages and towns.

Cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Bharatiya Janata Party have also been the target of Trinamool's purported political violence. The Congress workers on the ground want their party to align with the CPI (M) to fight Trinamool unitedly. They argue the cadres of the two parties, the Congress and CPI (M), are already fighting Trinamool's alleged political violence unitedly on the ground.

A three-cornered fight in West Bengal would also better serve the national objectives of the central leadership of the Congress. It would prevent the BJP, which is on the surge, to capture the opposition space in the state. This will help a split in anti-incumbency votes and ensure BJP wins lesser number of seats than it would in a bipolar contest.

The state unit of the Congress met party chief Rahul Gandhi last week. Gandhi met each of them individually to understand the situation.

Delhi

The Delhi unit of the Congress is vociferously against any truck with Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Party state unit chief Ajay Maken, former chief minister Sheila Dikshit and others cannot countenance an alliance between the Congress and AAP for Lok Sabha.

The AAP had proposed to the Congress that it should contest four and Congress three of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But Maken, Dikshit and other Delhi leaders will have none of it. They accuse Kejriwal and his group to have been the chief reason for the demise of the Congress-led UPA2, and that AAP is "hand in glove" with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Some in the Congress have lamented how its Delhi state unit was dictating to the central leadership. A truck with AAP would mean curtains for the political ambitions of several of Congress party’s Delhi leaders. The party claims its ground level workers are also against any alliance with AAP.

Punjab

The Congress is also opposed to an alliance with AAP in Punjab. The Congress, under Amarinder Singh, won a famous victory in the assembly polls in the state in March 2017. The AAP emerged the principal opposition. But an alliance with AAP would mean Congress allowing the contest to become bipolar when a three-cornered election is likely to help it better.

Moreover, the Congress in 2017 found support not just among the Sikhs but large sections of Hindus in the state. The AAP is increasingly looked at as a party supported by people with sympathies towards Khalistan.

An alliance with AAP could hurt the Congress not just in Punjab, but also nationally.

Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh

In Rajasthan, a struggle for party leadership is in the offing between former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and current party state unit chief Sachin Pilot.

Gehlot has in recent months emerged the Congress president’s closest adviser. But Pilot is young and has worked hard as the party’s Rajasthan unit chief. A difficult choice faces Rahul Gandhi as the party prepares for the assembly polls in Rajasthan.

A not very dissimilar leadership crisis has been somewhat resolved in Madhya Pradesh. The party has projected Kamal Nath as the next chief minister to ensure that the turf battle between Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia does not cost the party the assembly polls.

However, the party’s state units in these three poll-bound states are resistant to the idea of accommodating Bahujan Samaj Party in an alliance. The BSP is unwilling to settle below 30-seats in Madhya Pradesh and wants “honourable” seat adjustments in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan as well.

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has indicated that she is in favour of a seat adjustment with Mayawati-led BSP. According to sources, the Madhya Pradesh leadership is now resigned to giving BSP at least 25-seats.

First Published: Mon, July 09 2018. 15:03 IST
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