Opposition leaders have grown increasingly frustrated as the Congress party has continuously avoided getting down to the essential points of the alliance agreement Image Credit: ANI/AP

In India, Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar and the “sootradhar” (main mover) of the opposition INDIA alliance, rang the first public alarm bells by stating that the “Congress had no time to work on the seat share deal as it was focused on the upcoming state elections.”

Sources close to Kumar say that going public encapsulated the shrewd and experienced veteran leader’s frustration with the Congress party leadership, blowing hot and cold on the critical seat share issue. Kumar’s frustration is shared by other INDIA leaders such as Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief, and Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal.

With the countdown to India’s general elections ticking away, the most crucial element in the fight to deny Narendra Modi a historic third term is the seat share agreement between the allies. However, the Congress party has exasperated opposition leaders by simply not coming to brass tacks.

“We are already behind schedule with this as the timer ticks away. Amit Shah is deciding booth managers in the very seat while we don’t even know who is contesting. Shah has activated the BJP’s ‘B’ team across constituencies, even telling them who to give the tickets to force a tripartite contest to benefit BJP while the Congress remains oblivious to the threat,” said a senior opposition leader who was earlier optimistic about the INDIA alliance’s prospects against the BJP in a joint contest.

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Congress’ stonewalling

Now the same leader is angry and upset with the Congress’ stonewalling: “They are worse than absentee landlords. Rahul Gandhi has to do two things: one, publicly announce he is not in the running to be PM, and the other, green light and designate a leader with authority to work out a seat share agreement. We thought he had understood the first because nothing would make Modi happier than Gandhi as his designated rival, but, as is usual with him, Gandhi is dithering, carried away by the chatter of his palace coterie.”

In the heady days when the INDIA alliance was first announced, the opposition leaders were thrilled at the catchy moniker they had come up with against the BJP, which appeared unnerved at the conflation of our country’s name with the name of the opposition alliance.

However, things seemed to go downhill after that as the Congress leaders refused to agree to a seat share pie with the opposition in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Kamal Nath, the Congress party chief ministerial face, publicly mocked Akhilesh Yadav and his demands for some seats in MP.

A livid Yadav publicly hit out at the Congress. With Yadav being the chief opposition to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh with its 80 Lok Sabha seats and outsize influence in who rules Delhi, this was inexplicably bad behavior by the Congress, hardly winning friends and influence in the alliance. Kamal Nath had similarly been rude and dismissive about Jyotiraditya Scindia in public, and Scindia retaliated by pulling down his government and defecting to the BJP.

During the exhilarating period following the initial declaration of the INDIA alliance, opposition leaders were elated by the clever label they had devised against the BJP

Anti-Congress flex

After Kumar gave voice to the opposition’s grievances, Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress President, called him to clear the air on the issue. However, even after the call, there seemed to be zero urgency in Congress leaders in getting the seat share issue sorted. So much so that the Uddhav Thackeray Shiv Sena-controlled Saamna newspaper also publicly called out the Congress party as being the main hurdle in the INDIA alliance.

It is completely inexplicable why Kharge, hailed at the completion of a year as Congress president as his own man, not a Gandhi family puppet, is unable to exercise authority and work out a seat share formula. Especially as the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh elections are being brought in the names of the state leaders like Sachin Pilot, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Digvijaya Singh, and Kamal Nath in MP.

The Congress fancies its chances in both the states and feels it will be in a better position to negotiate a bigger share of the pie. Currently, the Gandhi family is busy trying to regain Telangana and is looking at the North-East as a winnable prospect again.

This has upset the heartland opposition leaders who say that these projects are quixotic while the threat of a Modi third term is real. Yadav displayed a huge heart and gave the Congress 100 seats in the state elections when they were allies. Yadav was aware that the Congress was non-existent in UP now they insult him.

“Is this how the largest opposition party should behave,” demands a Rashtriya Janata Dal leader. While they think they will make a comeback in the North-East to spite Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam Chief Minister, and Rahul Gandhi baiter who made a switch from the Congress to the BJP, Modi will romp home to a third term, says one of Kumar’s closest aides.

The Congress tunnel vision is truly puzzling and upsetting the India alliance leaders, especially as they all have a visceral anti-Congress flex like the Aam Aadmi Party and Banerjee’s TMC.

Opposition leaders are anxious about how the Congress party will accommodate AAP and TMC in a seat share arrangement. The fact that the Congress has virtually written off UP, with Priyanka Gandhi, who was earlier designated as party general secretary for UP, now busy campaigning in MP, is not lost on the opposition.

With its air of privilege and entitlement, the Congress party needs a reality check. Last time around, it had won Rajasthan and MP and lost the general elections soon after. This is so recent that one wonders how the Congress feigns amnesia.