Several opposition leaders have vehemently protested against the Indian National Congress (INC) leader Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that his party alone can challenge the BJP and other opposition parties lack ideology. These opposition leaders said that it was time the INC reconciled with the fact that it no longer dominated the opposition space. Rahul Gandhi had made the statement at his party’s Chintan Shivir the day before in Udaipur, Rajasthan. He had said at the Chintan Shivir that the INC was mounting an ideological resistance to the onslaught of the RSS, unlike regional parties which “lack an ideology” and “have different approaches”.
While regional parties have halted the BJP’s ‘victory march’ in several states, even as the INC failed, the JMM, a Congress ally, said: “It is Rahul Gandhi’s self-assessment and he is entitled to his opinion, but who gave him the authority to comment on ideology? How are we running the party without any ideology?” JMM spokesman Supriyo Bhattacharya said, “The fact remains that it is these regional parties on which the Congress is dependent for a fight or a win, be it the JMM in Jharkhand or the RJD in Bihar.”
The JMM and INC run a coalition government in Jharkhand.
The RJD, another ally of the INC, called the former Congress president’s statement “unfortunate”. RJD MP Manoj Jha said that had Rahul Gandhi been mindful of the outcome of poll fights against the BJP, he would have realised “the ideological and electoral commitment that is brought by such regional outfits, which he said do not have the capacity”.
Jha repeated RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s advice for the INC: “There are 220-225 seats where the BJP and Congress are in a direct fight. The Congress should leave the other spaces to regional parties and settle to the idea of a co-traveller.”
Leaders of the DMK, the Congress ally in Tamil Nadu, preferred not to comment on the issue. It indicated the southern party was waiting for the organisation’s leadership to take a stand.
Recently, an indirect ally of the INC, the CPM, had said it was the INC that had a crisis of ideology as it was flirting with “soft Hindutva” and was unable to take on the challenges posed by the BJP. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, considered a votary of an alliance with the INC, said at a party conference in Kochi: “Compared to the past, the Congress today has been considerably weakened. And many in the BJP and the RSS do not see thte Congress as a major threat. Because, any of its leaders, at any point of time, can leave the party to join the BJP.”
The Trinamool Congress and AAP, which have dealt the BJP more than one defeat, were blunter. Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev said that “devoid of a narrative, face and organisation”, it was the Congress that was handing over seats to the BJP on a platter, in places where the two parties directly fighting each other. “We are not contesting every seat, but the BJP is strong wherever the Congress is the primary opposition. The BJP has not been able to defeat M K Stalin (Tamil Nadu), Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), or for that matter Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy (Andhra Pradesh), to name a few. In that sense, the BJP is happy to have the Congress as a national party because it suits them. The reality is, the Congress is unable to defeat the BJP,” Dev, who quit the INC in August last year, said.
The Trinamool Congress has drifted away from the INC after once having been a constituent of the UPA.
The AAP asked how the national party thought it was in a position to fight ‘communal’ forces, given that it remains beset with infighting. “Even in states like Madhya Pradesh, which voted the Congress to power, its candidates put themselves up for sale. The party has no presence in major states like UP and Tamil Nadu. And what is national and regional? For years, it has been a junior partner to parties like the SP, DMK,” AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh said.
Talasani Srinivas Yadav, a senior leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and a minister, said: “Rahul Gandhi should first consider the condition of his party all over India and then make such comments… Their status has been exposed in the Uttar Pradesh election results.”
Refusing to speak on record, a leader of the YSRCP (formed after a split in the INC) said: “Did we not decimate the Congress, which is a national party, in Andhra Pradesh? If we can take on one national party, we are strong enough to take on any other national party. The Congress is in no position to decide who can fight the BJP. In fact, we think only regional parties can oppose the BJP.”
BJD spokesperson Lenin Mohanty said: “The results that regional parties have been showing in their respective states is evidence enough of the efficacy of these parties. From Delhi to Kerela, regional parties are being trusted by the people and given more and more responsibilities.”
The INC’s slow eclipse showed “it is itself fighting an ideological battle”, Mohanty said. “In all probability, Rahul Gandhi was in a mood to joke. They should first evaluate themselves properly, then cast aspirations either on national parties or regional parties. The problem with the Congress right now is, it is unable to evaluate.”