NEW DELHI, Dec 22: Amidst nation-wide protest by the INDIA bloc parties on Friday against the suspension of over 146 Members of Parliament from the two houses during the winter session, the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is learnt to have admonished party’s some of the state leaders for refusing to have adjustments with some smaller parties during the recent elections to five state assemblies.
The Congress’s defeat in three important states just months before the national election weighed heavily in a meeting of the party’s top leadership with Rahul Gandhi strongly emphasizing upon the need to accommodate regional parties in the fight against the BJP.
The meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) saw leaders from party chief Mallikarjun Kharge to Rahul Gandhi stressing on opposition unity to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the 2024 election.
The state elections were held up as an example of what not to do, especially in Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress failed to capitalise on four-term anti-incumbency. The Congress also lost power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, managing a lone win in Telangana.
Rahul Gandhi, say sources, questioned why state units were not ready to make adjustments with smaller parties to try and defeat the BJP. Congress veteran Kamal Nath, who led the party’s flop campaign in Madhya Pradesh, came in for criticism though he was not present as he is not a CWC member. Several leaders called out what they described as his autocratic style and stubborn refusal to accept feedback or ideas.
The party believes that the losses in the three states was mainly due to the BJP collecting votes that would have gone to smaller parties. In an apparent reference to Madhya Pradesh, where Kamal Nath famously said “Akhilesh-wakhilesh” while dismissing talk of an alliance with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi said the Congress should have agreed to seat-sharing with smaller parties. That cannot be termed as an intrusion, he articulated. The Congress needs to accommodate others and every percentage of vote matters in the fight against the BJP, he said. Rahul Gandhi also felt that the party did not campaign properly in the three states and cited the example of Telangana, say sources, where the Congress made a remarkable comeback from third position just a year ago.
When some leaders sought to highlight the BJP’s organisational strength in all three states, Rahul Gandhi is said to have pointed out that the Congress did win all three in 2018 and that the BJP is not unbeatable. Mallikarjun Kharge reportedly endorsed the view and said giving up four or five seats should not have been an issue in the larger interests of the party.
The Congress chief, who has been pitched as the prime ministerial face of the INDIA bloc, was said to have sent a loud and clear message to the party – lessons must be learnt from the state election verdict and the Congress has to fight unitedly with alliance partners of the INDIA bloc to take on the BJP-led NDA.
The point was reinforced in the CWC resolution, which said: “This meeting of the CWC expresses its firmest resolve to be fully prepared at the earliest to fight the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections both as a party in its own right and also as a member of the INDIA group. It reiterates the determination of the Indian National Congress to take all steps necessary to make the INDIA group an effective bulwark and force against the BJP and its allies.”
Mr Rahul Gandhi later also tried to reach out to the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, one of the prime movers of the opposition alliance, following reports of more rifts in the INDIA bloc, particularly at the last meeting of the alliance in New Delhi earlier this week. Though Gandhi – Kumar talks could not be held as both were busy in meetings at different times, Kharge is learnt to have spoken to Kumar while Gandhi had a talk with the Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar as part of damage-control measure.
Sources said Nitish Kumar clashed with INDIA leaders on several issues at Wednesday’s meet, including renaming the bloc as ‘Bharat’. That proposal was swiftly nixed by Sonia Gandhi. He reportedly also got angry with Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, a state ally, because Mr Jha translated his speech from Hindi to Tamil for the benefit of political leaders from the DMK. There was also talk Nitish Kumar lashed out at the Congress after its dismal performance in November’s Assembly polls, which were widely seen as a dry run of INDIA’s pull with voters.
The JDU, Bengal’s Trinamool Congress, and the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav had all called out the Congress for failing to acknowledge the need to share seats, particularly with regional parties. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal springing up a surprise by proposing Kharge’s name as the opposition bloc’s prime ministerial candidate has also not gone down well with Nitish Kumar.
The “Kharge for PM” call and Nitish Kumar’s reaction has given the BJP ammo to hit back at the INDIA bloc. On Wednesday senior leader Sushil Kumar Modi ripped into the Bihar Chief Minister. Mr Modi, once Nitish Kumar’s deputy and right-hand man, had said his former boss had too high an opinion of his leadership and influence, pointing out that even RJD boss Lalu Prasad Yadav – one of Nitish Kumar’s oldest colleagues – had not proposed his name as a potential Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the INDIA bloc as per its programme decided at Wednesday’s meeting, staged nation-wide protest on Friday against the suspension of the opposition MPs for demanding a statement from the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the Parliament security breach.
At the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, the protest, which was organised under the banner of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), was attended by Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and leaders of Left parties, DMK, NCP, SP, NC, TMC, JMM, RJD and other opposition parties. Addressing the gathering, Mr Kharge said the leaders of INDIA parties have come together as democracy was under threat under the BJP government. “When all unite, Narendra Modi won’t be able to do anything… The more you try to crush us, the more we will rise. We are fighting unitedly to save the country and democracy,” he said.
Mr Gandhi said Opposition members were suspended from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for demanding answers from Home Minister Amit Shah on the December 13 Parliament security breach issue. “The more hatred the BJP spreads, the more love and brotherhood INDIA parties will spread,” he said. “By shunting out 150 MPs from the Parliament, the government has shut out the voice of 60 per cent Indians,” he said.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar, CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D Raja, JMM’s Mahua Maji, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, RJD’s Manoj Kumar Jha, TMC’s Mausam Noor, NC’s Hasnain Masoodi, Revolutionary Socialist Party’s N K Premachandran and SP’s S T Hasan were among the leaders present at the protest.