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Express View on Congress’s triple defeat: What is INDIA’s message?

In the days after the results of this round of assembly elections, a question mark has loomed larger — over the future of the anti-BJP Opposition front, INDIA. Even before the results, the alliance was hardly a seamless project, there was evidently much hard work of stitching and darning that remained to be done ahead of 2024.

It has seemed precariously poised, as it navigates the teeming egos within, several conflicts of ambitions, ideologies and interests, thorny issues of seat-sharing and leadership, and even more fundamentally, the unaddressed lag or gap between decisions of party leaderships and responses of their respective support base. Now, after the severe triple setback to the Congress in the Hindi heartland — it lost its governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and spectacularly fell short of wresting Madhya Pradesh from four-term incumbent BJP — the knives are out. Not surprisingly, they have acquired a sharper edge and the way they are being wielded, they may end up wounding the front.

TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said that the Congress could have averted its electoral routs if it had spared some seats for INDIA members in these assembly polls, that the division of anti-BJP votes helped do it in. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has pointedly spoken of “ahankaar (arrogance)” and its comeuppance.

Banerjee and Yadav and the erstwhile mover and shaker of INDIA, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, have expressed an inability to attend a meeting of the alliance on December 6, called by Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge — with Tamil Nadu CM Stalin also staying away, it has now been scaled down to a brainstorming over joint tactics for the Winter Session of Parliament which has just begun. These may only be warning signals of more internal attrition to come.

Because INDIA suffers from fundamental problems and deficits — Congress hauteur and entitlement, that make it a sitting target after defeat, is only one of them. The alliance lacks continuity and commitment by members to make it work and grow. There was no reason, after all, why it should have been pushed to the backburner by the assembly elections

Festive offer

. Admittedly, three of the five contests saw, more or less, direct fights between Congress and BJP, but that should not have come in the way of putting up a show of unity, getting alliance members to share the same stage, send out a powerful signal and message from any or all of the poll-bound states.

Perhaps the anti-BJP alliance should use the current lull to ask itself a question that has more to do with political substance, not just process, one that has been sharpened by the assembly election results: As it works towards a joint agenda and programme, does it need to rethink its tone and tenor? The affirmative mandates for the BJP, as both incumbent and challenger, including and especially in the poorest swathes of the electorate, show that the Opposition’s apocalyptic tone is certainly not resonating.

For INDIA, a review of the story it tells voters, a parsing of the positive and negative parts of its message, is a good place to begin the much-needed larger reckoning. As always, in politics, mere arithmetic doesn’t solve the power equation.

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