New Delhi : The Congress party’s decision to allow the Janata Dal (Secular) to take the lead in the state by installing its chief minister was applauded by many leaders, with NCP chief Sharad Pawar describing the role of the Congress as a “sensible” one.
But while Pawar congratulated Congress president Rahul Gandhi for ousting BJP, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, among the first to call the developments a victory of the regional front, did not mention Gandhi in her message.
“Democracy wins. Congratulations Karnataka. Congratulations Deve Gowda ji, Kumaraswamy ji, Congress and others. Victory of the ‘regional front’,” she said.
The sub-text was clear: some regional leaders would not allow the Congress take the lead in forming a broad platform of the opposition.
While an opposition leader felt the Congress would need to play a more “gracious role” in a grand alliance before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to keep the BJP-RSS out, senior CPI leader D Raja said the question of who would lead the front should be kept open.
Gandhi had ruffled some opposition feathers when he had positioned himself as a prime ministerial candidate for the next LS polls if his party did well.
Raja, however, stressed the issue of who would be prime minister in 2019 should be discussed at a later stage. “The instant focus should be defeating the BJP,” he said.
What is clear is that the Congress understands the need to keep regional parties happy – which explains why it agreed to be the junior partner in the Karnataka government led by HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S).
But this may require more give and take than the Congress is used to.
That said, the Karnataka developments sounded a clarion call for opposition unity.
From the DMK’s MK Stalin and Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav to TDP’s N Chandrababu Naidu, RJD’s Tejwaswi Yadav and TRS’s K Chandrashekhar Rao, every regional leader urged parties to align to defeat the BJP.
All eyes are now on how the Congress plays its role as the central pole of opposition unity.
In Karnataka, the party sacrificed its own space for larger political gains. The move which is also being seen as a sign of the party’s decline in the state and Gandhi’s failure, that its seats went down from 122 in 2013 to 78.
This explains the party’s offer of unconditional support to the JD(S), which, with its 37 seats, clinched the deal for it.
Opposition leaders said Congress would have to show the same openness and flexibility going forward and ensure it gave space to other parties, even if it wanted to lead the front. “Congress should give space to regional parties and there should be more give and take to help bring everyone together on one common platform,” senior NCP leader Tariq Anwar, a former Congressman, said.
“Then only will a good national alliance be formed to counter the BJP in 2019,” Anwar told PTI.
The NCP leader, however, batted for the Congress retaining the top post saying past experiences of giving the post to regional players had not yielded results.
But Raja of the CPI, while terming Karnataka a “positive development”, stressed that the Congress had to be “realistic and flexible”.
The equations are changing. How far the Congress goes in accommodating its allies may determine how far the BJP will go in 2019.