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Dissidence in Congress: Contradictions in State Elections

Dissidence in Congress: Contradictions in State Elections

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Mar 1: Contradictions within the Congress are coming out more openly on the eve of the elections to the four states and a union territory with one of its major strongholds-Punjab-due to go to the polls in about a year’s time. An ally here, enemy there, is the order of the day for the Congress in different state elections.

After the veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad caused raising of the eyebrows in the party circles by singing unsolicited praise of the prime minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, another dissident leader Anand Sharma, virtually threw a challenge to the party leadership over the Congress joining hands with the Indian Secular Front (ISF) along with the CPI(M) in the West Bengal assembly elections.

Going public against the party’s WB election strategy, Sharma said the party could not be “selective” about its fight against the communal forces.

“Congress’s alliance with the ISF and similar parties goes against its core ideology, and the secularism advocated by Gandhi and Nehru, which is the soul of the Congress. These issues should have been discussed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC),” Sharma tweeted in Hindi.

“In the fight against communalism, the Congress cannot be selective. We must fight against communalism in all forms. The West Bengal Congress chief’s presence and support is shameful, he has to explain his stand,” he added.

Sharma’s apparent reference was to visuals of Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, holding hands with the leaders at a rally with the Left and the ISF (Indian Secular Front).

Sharma’s allegation that Chowdhury acted on his own brought in immediate rebuttal from the MP. He retorted that he never took any decision without a signoff by his leadership in Delhi hinting that his move has sanction from the party high command.

“We are in charge of a state and don’t take any decision on our own without any permission,” he told the media. The Congress’s Bengal plan ranges it against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the upcoming Bengal election even though she is battling a massive challenge by the BJP – a common enemy.

The key opposition party also finds itself on the same side as the Left, its direct rival in Kerala.

Bengal Congress leaders, including Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, have reportedly expressed misgivings about the tie-up with the ISF led by Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui.

Abbas Siddiqui, also known as “Bhaijaan” by his supporters, is notorious for controversial comments during his religious speeches over the years. At some stage the ISF was reportedly holding talks with the AIMIM for joining hands in the WB elections. The Left, however, denies that the outfit is communal.

Anand Sharma’s public condemnation of his own party unit comes after Azad praised Modi openly.

Both Anand Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad are part of what has come to be known since last year as the “G-23” or the group of 23 dissidents who wrote a letter calling for “full-time and visible leadership” and suggesting sweeping organizational changes.

“I like a lot of things about many leaders. I’m from a village and am proud of that… I’m also proud that leaders like our Prime Minister, who used to sell tea, also come from villages. We may be rivals but I appreciate he doesn’t hide his true self,” Azad had at an event in Jammu on Sunday.

  • The Congress creating a triangle along with the left and the ISF, which the political observers believe will only benefit the BJP, come in stark contrast to the stand taken by its ally in Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal. The RJD will contest a few assembly seats in Bengal as an ally of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav met Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee Monday afternoon and offered his full support to her in the coming assembly polls in Bengal.

“Many people from Bihar and other states reside in Bengal. I appeal to all people from Bihar to unitedly support Mamata Ji. I will use my full strength to support her. This election is about protecting Bengal and its culture, which is unique. This is a fight to save Bengal’s values. Our leader Lalu Prasad Ji wants this,” Yadav said referring to his father, shortly after meeting Banerjee at Nabanna, the state secretariat. The meeting reportedly did not discuss seat-sharing but Yadav said his party would stand by the TMC at all costs.

“At a time when the nation’s ministers should be working hard to save the country and the people they are all camping in Bengal. The BJP is spreading lies. It is selling the assets of the nation, such as the railways and the Steel Authority of India,” said Yadav.

Banerjee was present when the young RJD leader was talking to reporters.

“I congratulate Tejashwi. He is a young leader. The BJP used all kinds of tricks to stop him from winning the Bihar elections. But I know he will lead Bihar very soon. The way Lalu Prasad Ji is suffering in jail is unfair. The BJP should get the message. Wherever Tejashwi is fighting, I am fighting. And where I am fighting, he is fighting. You (BJP) cannot win this election no matter how hard you control the media and how big you talk,” said Banerjee.

Yadav accused the BJP of not doing anything for the development of Bihar. “They did not even make Patna University a Central university. They promised to generate 20,00,000 jobs but nothing has happened. During the Covid-19 lockdown labourers from Bihar were treated badly. Nothing was done to send them home from other states. People died while walking on highways and were run down by trains. Their numbers were more than those who died of Covid-19,” said Yadav.

“In sharp contrast, Mamata ji was on the streets, helping people. No matter how much we praise her, it won’t be enough,” said Yadav.

The RJD is an ally of the Congress in Bihar and the two parties are trying to contest the Assam election together.

Asked whether the RJD’s support to the TMC against which the Congress is contesting in Bengal, would affect his party’s political equations with the grand old party, Yadav said, “Our alliance with Congress is in Bihar. These alliances depend on political situations which vary from region to region.”

Bengal Congress leaders did not comment on Yadav’s statements.

The RJD and Maharashtra’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders held talks with TMC leaders last month and agreed to form an alliance against the BJP in the Bengal assembly polls.

Bihar’s ruling party, the Janata Dal (United), or JDU, an ally of the BJP, the Samajwadi Party (SP) from Uttar Pradesh; Jharkhand’s ruling party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena have also decided to contest the polls either in alliance with the TMC or independently.

The entry of the regional parties has triggered the possibility of a split in votes cast by Hindi-speaking and tribal people.

A large number of people with roots in Bihar are permanent residents of Bengal. The state is also home to a large number of migrant workers from Bihar.

BJP’s Bengal unit chief Dilip Ghosh brushed aside any threat to the party from the RJD’s alliance with the TMC.

“Many regional parties were seen supporting Mamata Banerjee before the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 but we have seen how they faced defeat. They will face the same fate again. Those who lack confidence need crutches. We are confident of winning more than 200 seats,” Ghosh said.

Meanwhile, ahead of the Punjab polls, the chief minister Amarinder Singh has roped in election strategist Prashant Kishor to advise him on poll preparations. “Look forward to working together for the betterment of the people of Punjab!” Singh tweeted on Monday.

Election strategist Prashant Kishor, who has helped propel several politicians to election victories, will now work with Punjab chief minister. Singh took to Twitter to announce that Kishor has joined him as his Principal Advisor, nearly 12 months before the northern state goes to polls.

“Happy to share that @PrashantKishor has joined me as my Principal Advisor. Look forward to working together for the betterment of the people of Punjab!” Singh tweeted on Monday.

Confirming the appointment, the Government of Punjab posted in Twitter: “Punjab Cabinet clears the appointment of Shri @PrashantKishor as Principal Advisor to the Chief Minister @capt_amarinder Singh in the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister.”



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