Congress Dilemma: Alliances Can Reduce Its Clout in States

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), June 6, 2018 | Go to article overview

Congress Dilemma: Alliances Can Reduce Its Clout in States


India, June 6 -- The Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) may have resolved their differences over power-sharing in Karnataka and even announced an alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but the Karnataka experience has once again exposed the fault lines in the grand old party's strategy when it comes to alliances.

After days of intense negotiations, the Congress conceded to the demands of the JD(S) and handed over to it the key portfolios of finance, excise, power and public works department apart from the all-important post of the chief minister. The Congress was willing to make compromises despite having secured more seats than the JD(S). With the victory in RR Nagar, the Congress took its tally to 79 seats in the 224-member Karnataka assembly. The JD(S)-BSP combine won from 38 constituencies while the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats. Congressmen believe their party made the right decision.

"It was a bold step on the part of our leadership. We made the sacrifice in the larger interests of the people who wanted to see a secular and stable government in the state. It is an all inclusive government," said Karnataka Congress leader Shakir Sanadi.

"Congress-JD(S) is a winning combination and we will definitely sweep the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The main purpose is to oust the BJP from power at the national level in 2019," he said.

His party colleague Manickam Tagore agrees. "There was also a perception that the Congress has a big brother attitude towards its alliance partners. By offering the lead role to the JD(S), the Congress has shown that unlike the BJP, it treats its allies as equals and even superiors at times," said Tagore, an AICC secretary.

History shows that Tagore's comment is accurate, but that it doesn't always benefit the Congress's own interests in the long term.

In Bihar, the Congress remained a dominant political force till 1990, when it was ousted from power with the emergence of Mandal (reservation) politics championed by RJD chief Lalu Prasad. It stitched an alliance with the RJD for the first time in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. The accord continued for 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha and the 2005 assembly elections as well.

In 1998, the Congress won five seats with a vote share of 7.72%, which slipped to 4.78% in 1999 when it won only four seats. With a vote share of 4.8%, the party won only three seats in 2004.

And when the Congress decided to sing the "Ekla chalo (go it alone)" tune in 2009 Lok Sabha and the 2010 assembly elections, in the state, it had to eat humble pie. The party won just two out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 polls and only four seats in the 2010 assembly elections.

"Once we agreed to play a junior partner to RJD, the people stopped taking us seriously. At the same time, we have not paid any attention to strengthening our party at the grassroots level or empowering the workers," senior Congress leader Kishore Kumar Jha said.

"It is sad to see that a party that ruled the state for decades has been reduced to a marginal player," he added.

In Maharashtra, the Congress struck an alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar in 1999 to form a coalition government. Since then, the two parties have been engaged in a battle of one-upmanship. …

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