Addressing Congress leaders at the three-day Chintan Shivir, Rahul Gandhi had said, “BJP will talk about Congress, will talk about Congress leaders, will talk about Congress workers, but will not talk about regional parties, because they know that regional parties have their place, but they cannot defeat BJP. Because they don’t have an ideology.”
Ironically, at the same shivir the Congress announced that it is committed to establishing a dialogue with all like-minded parties and would keep open avenues for forging alliances according to political circumstances.
‘Ruling with regional parties, but … ‘
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which is in alliance with the Congress in Jharkhand, strongly rejected Rahul’s assessment and said it just showed the desperation of the grand old party.
JMM spokesperson and senior party leader Supriyo Bhhatacharya said, “The Congress is compelled to fight with the regional parties. In Jharkhand, it is part of the government with a regional party and yet Rahul says that regional parties lack ideology.”
“This could be his personal opinion. We have a strong ideology,” Supriyo Bhhatacharya added.
Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, which is the main opposition party in Bihar and is in alliance with the Congress, also reacted strongly to Rahul’s remarks.
RJD spokesperson Manoj Kumar Jha said “I find this remark a little bizarre and out of sync.”
“Regional parties are strong in a majority of Lok Sabha seats in the fight against the BJP, and the Congress should settle to be “co-travellers” and let them be in the “driving seat” in over 320 of the 543 parliamentary constituencies,” he said.
‘Congress has phobia of regional parties’
Another former ally of the Congress in Karnataka, the Janata Dal(Secular) took a swipe at Rahul for his critical comments.
“Congress has a phobia of regional parties. It has no presence in most of the states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha. The party is in its last days in Karnataka. It will be better if Rahul Gandhi understands that,” JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy said.
Citing Rahul Gandhi’s claim that Congress alone has the strength to defeat the BJP, the former Karnataka chief minister said he (Rahul) should not forget that his party enjoyed power for 10 years on the strength of regional parties.
Regional parties occupying Congress space in some states
The Congress has alliances with several regional parties and in several state elections in the recent past, it is the regional parties that have defeated the BJP.
The grand old party, which is struggling to stay relevant in most of the states, is also sharing power as junior partners in two states – Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
It has not just lost power in state after state, but has also started ceding the opposition space to other regional players.
So much so, several regional parties have now started questioning the relevance of the Congress as an ally.
While the Congress needs to counter the regional parties as much as the BJP, it cannot afford to antagonize all of them in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
At least two regional heavyweights – Mamata Banerjee and K Chandrashekar Rao – are already working overtime to form a non-Congress opposition to counter the BJP.
Today, the Congress needs the regional parties as much as they need the grand old party.
(With inputs from agencies)