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Congress' Political Isolation: As Opposition Reorients, Rahul Must Sort Out 2024

Allies have chosen to break ranks to defend Sisodia even as the Congress continues to target AAP and Arvind Kejriwal

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Congress' Political Isolation: As Opposition Reorients, Rahul Must Sort Out 2024
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The Congress was conspicuous by its absence from a united opposition protest against former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia’s recent arrest by the CBI.

Jointly and separately, all anti-BJP parties have taken up cudgels on behalf of Sisodia, shooting off letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn the arrest as a "witch hunt’’.

Interestingly, three of the parties—RJD, Shiv Sena, and NCP—are Congress allies while two others— CPI(M) and DMK—are votaries of a Congress-led opposition front to fight Modi in the 2024 general election. Yet, they have chosen to break ranks with the Congress to defend Sisodia while the grand old party continues to target the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Arvind Kejriwal’s government for corruption.

On the other hand, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has extended its support to the recently-formed Nagaland government led by the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) leader. Pawar justified this move saying that the Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio represented the NDPP and not the BJP.

Snapshot
  • All anti-BJP parties have taken up cudgels on behalf of Sisodia, shooting off letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn the arrest as a "witch hunt’’.

  • Congress allies have chosen to break ranks with the grand old party to defend Sisodia while it continues to target the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Kejriwal.

  • In the Gujarat assembly poll last year, AAP and Congress neutralised each other to give the BJP its biggest victory ever.

  • Regional parties have shown time and again they can do business with the BJP if the party is in power at the Centre.

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What Congress's Distance From Opposition Camp Signals

It is evident that the Congress party is getting increasingly isolated in the Opposition camp. Regional chieftains seem to have decided to chart their own course to fight the BJP, with or without the Congress. Their patience is running out as Congress dithers on opposition unity even while paying lip service to the idea.

The BJP must be smirking. Every time the Congress and a non-BJP party cross swords, another nail is hammered into the coffin of opposition unity.
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Although Modi is way ahead of his rivals in the popularity sweepstakes, he’s an astute politician. He must know from the fate of equally charismatic predecessors like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee that a high index of opposition unity can be a dangerous opponent. All three leaders lost elections when the Opposition united against them.

Consequently, a major thrust of Modi’s strategy in the run-up to the 2024 general election has been and will continue to be to keep the Opposition divided so that the anti-BJP vote gets split.

It works every time. In the Gujarat assembly poll last year, AAP and Congress neutralised each other to give the BJP its biggest victory ever. In the recently concluded assembly election in Tripura, voting figures show that a Left-Congress-Tipra Motha alliance would have kept the BJP out of power.

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The irony is that Modi and the BJP don’t have to strain to prevent the Opposition from uniting or arriving at a seat adjustment for a one-on-one fight in most of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. The Opposition seems to be doing the job for them.

A Divided Opposition Is Blessing in Disguise for BJP

Hardly a day passes without bickering or squabbling as the Opposition rapidly loses sight of its stated objective which is to put up a united fight against the BJP to oust Modi.

The recent poll campaign in Meghalaya is a stark illustration of the lack of focus, particularly in Congress which never tires of reminding its friends that it cannot be excluded from an anti-BJP front.

Meghalaya was one state where the Congress was a force till the last election in 2018. But instead of working to strengthen and revive itself, the party seemed more interested in settling scores with the TMC and its leader Mukul Sangma who jumped ship just before the election.

Congress Chief Spokesperson Jairam Ramesh likened him to Judas while the BJP and regional parties that would predictably form a government together post-results watched with glee as their opponents wrangled.

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In neighbouring Tripura, voting figures show that a Congress-Left-Tipra Motha alliance would have kept the BJP out of power. But because of ego clashes, the parties failed to forge an understanding.

The Congress must surely realise that it stands to lose the most if Modi and the BJP return to power for a third successive term. Regional parties have shown time and again they can do business with the BJP if the party is in power at the Centre. So despite their anti-BJP rhetoric, they are likely to seek a working relationship with Modi even as they guard their turf against the BJP’s expansionist ambitions.
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Rahul Gandhi Must Walk the Extra Mile To Contest Modi

The Congress, on the other hand, is in direct contest with the BJP to be the central pole of Indian politics. That was what it once was. Today, the BJP has taken over that position and is determined to relegate the Congress to the margins, if not snuff it out completely.

Consequently, the onus for opposition unity rests on the Congress. Like Sonia Gandhi did in 2004 when she swallowed her pride and joined forces with inimical parties like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and Lalu Yadav’s RJD in Bihar, Rahul Gandhi will have to accept a diminished role for himself and his party for a united opposition front to take shape.

Unfortunately, while Sonia Gandhi walked the extra mile to accommodate erstwhile opponents to defeat the BJP (remember her famous trek to the late LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan’s house next door to seal an alliance in 2004), Rahul Gandhi shows no such inclination.

In fact, many within the Congress fear that he isn’t bothered if the party shrinks from a two-digit tally in the Lok Sabha to single digits in 2024. There is growing anxiety that Rahul Gandhi has a misplaced sense of confidence that age is on his side. Modi will not last forever. Congress ka time aayegaa.

His aides and friends fan that feeling. The argument goes like this: Sonia Gandhi may have led the party to two terms in power through coalition governments, but it entailed costly political compromises.

This group sees AAP as a threat and Arvind Kejriwal fuels their trepidation by repeatedly declaring his intention to capture the Congress space in national politics.
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A new survey published in The Hindu must have touched a raw nerve in the grand old party and rang alarm bells in the party. Its findings revealed that more respondents felt AAP is a better national alternative to the BJP than the Congress.

Is it any wonder then that the Congress does not want to defend Sisodia even if it means another blow to the prospect of opposition unity for 2024?

(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Aam Aadmi Party   Opposition   BJP-Congress 

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