Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s sharp criticism of Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at an election rally in Malda signalled the end of bonhomie between the two parties and more importantly a setback for the efforts to forge a grand opposition alliance to take on the BJP-led NDA. With the general elections less than three weeks away, the scene across several States appears messy. In Uttar Pradesh, where political stakes are very high, the ‘mahagathbandhan’ has virtually come a cropper. Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati has snubbed the Grand Old Party and ruled out any alliance with it in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other States. The party’s alliance with the JD(S) in Karnataka is shaky with serious differences cropping up over the choice of seats. The Delhi unit of the Congress is vertically divided over alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Following collapse of alliance talks with the Left front, the Congress has now decided to go it alone in West Bengal. After initial trouble, the alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was firmed up in Bihar with Lalu Prasad having his way in the seat adjustments. For the Congress, which seeks to serve as a fulcrum to bind the anti-BJP parties together, it has been quite an uphill task. Despite having the momentum on its side in the wake of victories in the key northern States of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and its tough fight in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home State of Gujarat, the Congress has failed to seize the narrative and quickly build alliances.
It is clear from the responses of the formidable regional parties that the Congress is not in a position to lead a national alternative to the BJP. In many States, it has been reduced to a fringe player with hardly any bargaining power. On the other hand, the alliance-building exercise for the BJP has been relatively smooth. However, the saffron party has so far failed to make any new friends while struggling to keep the old friends in good humour. Both the national parties have failed to measure up to the people’s expectations. It is only by strengthening the voice of regional parties in Parliament that it would be possible to end the domination of the two national parties in Delhi. Any alliance that is merely a poll-eve coming together of parties is bound to collapse under the weight of their inherent contradictions and ego tussles. What is needed is an alliance based on clear-cut alternative socio-economic agenda to put the country on a higher growth trajectory.