The Congress is the grand party of yore; the party that lived through the freedom struggle and gave India its first government. And today, it struggles to stand against the ruling BJP government on a pan-India level. Case in point, the Opposition meet on January 13.
Called by Congress president and UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi, it was intended to frame a joint action plan against the CAA, the proposed NRC and other issues. But it might be a bit of a stretch to call it an "Opposition" party meet when many of the parties in question are not attending. Some, it would seem, haven't even been invited.
Aam Aadmi Party, for example, is skipping the meet as it had no information about the meeting and so, said there was no point in attending it. Of course, the upcoming Delhi assembly polls might have had a role to play.
According to the Lokniti CSDS survey, 25% of both BJP’s and Cong’s Lok Sabha voters are willing to vote for AAP in the polls. That makes it clear why Kejriwal is pulling a Jim Hacker and giving no controversial opinions about anything to antagonise any potential Cong or BJP voter when a win is on the cards.
It is interesting to see the Shiv Sena humming the same tune. The Maharashtra ally claimed that it was "not aware" of the meeting and had “not been invited for it”. Now that may very well be true, in which case we have to question the Congress’ rationale, but at the same time, Sena’s reticence makes sense. Once a BJP-ally, the party now finds itself finely balancing between being more ‘leftist’ in its outlook, while ensuring that it’s not considered anti-national. Attending an anti-CAA and anti NRC meeting organised by the Opposition, then perhaps isn’t the best idea.
TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee has been a vocal critic of CAA-NRC. But even she refused to attend, citing ‘Congress-Left hooliganism' during the Bharat bandh last week. Mamata – who once batted for 1 vs 1 battle against BJP before the 2019 elections – also views Congress as an antagonist and hasn’t seen eye to eye with the top brass since they appointed her bete noire Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha.
Another party that declined the invite, BSP, took to Twitter to say that attending will not be “appropriate".
"Congress has divided the party in Rajasthan and this is the second time they have done so," Mayawati said. And while Rajasthan may have been the officially cited state, perhaps the BSP supremo is looking closer to home. It is not much of a stretch to assume that UP Congress in-charge Priyanka Gandhi’s visits to the state have not gone down well. After all, Mayawati did recently tweet about “a Congress leader (who) visits Uttar Pradesh every now and then to shed crocodile tears”.
Another party conspicuous in its absense was the Congress ally, DMK.
But can the Congress really afford to alienate other parties? After all, their words on the CAA seem to suggest that it transcends political squabbles. Rahul Gandhi for example had called the Citizenship Amendment Bill an "attack on the Indian Constitution".
When it comes to the CAA-NRC debate, any party that is not in sync with the ruling BJP and has been a critic of the new Act can be termed as the Opposition. And yet, the biggest party in the Opposition camp seems unable to unite these factions under its aegis. Scratch that, it hasn’t even been able to get all its state segments to come to a consensus.
Congress governments have publicly denounced the CAA-NRC-NPR, it is true. But there has been limited evidence of their support at the state level. And none, have protested in a manner reminiscent of Mamata Banerjee.
On a tangential note, the Congress leadership has not endeared themselves to people in recent times. As evidenced in recent polls, people are willing to vote in diametrically different ways when it comes to local or state elections, as opposed to the general election.
And while the Congress continues to stay relevant in many recent state elections, the credit for that cannot go entirely to the party’s national heads. Some of the biggest names in the party even today bear the same last name, and despite a recent newspaper ad hailing Priyanka Gandhi as the second coming of Indira, it does not seem to be doing them much by way of favours.
For most of the leaders opposing the CAA-NRC, this is a serious matter. Against that backdrop, Rahul Gandhi’s frequent sojourns out of the country, for example, does nothing to sway public opinion in his favour.
Let us leave aside the moral high ground for a second.
Constitutional obligations and human rights aside, this is also a problematic situation for the party’s continued survival. When there is no common consensus even within the body, how exactly does it expect to join hands with other parties and take on the NDA?
In 2018, Rahul Gandhi had said that "the entire opposition is getting together in six months to a year". We’re still waiting on that. In the meantime, the NDA has returned with a bigger majority, while the Congress remains stuck in the same place. Their seeming inability to build any sort of a consensus does not bode well for the future.
(With inputs from agencies)