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More than three months since 28 opposition parties came together to form the INDIA alliance, their teething troubles are more than beginning to show. Last week, a furious Samajwadi Party Chief and former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav accused the Congress of treating his party “shabbily” after talks for seat sharing in Madhya Pradesh broke down.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the five states were elections will be held next month. Yadav even threatened a ‘tit-for-tat’ response to the Congress for seat-sharing in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha polls next year, where the SP is much stronger. “If this is how the Congress behaves, then who will stand with them?” Akhilesh asked angrily.

The Congress is upset that the Samajwadi Party has fielded candidates in Madhya Pradesh where the fight is primarily between them and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But Akhilesh says the Congress did not make it clear until talks for the assembly polls were held, that the INDIA seat sharing understanding would only be for the Lok Sabha.

“The Congress should have been clear. If you weren’t going to give seats, then you shouldn’t have held talks with us”. It did not help that the UP Congress Chief Ajay Rai hit back at Akhilesh saying little could be expected of a man who did not respect his own father.

Akhilesh Yadav
Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav Image Credit: ANI

Even by the standards of the poor political discourse in the country today, that was quite a low blow. The Congress stand is rather bewildering. In the recent Ladakh Hill council polls, which were swept by the National Conference and Congress, the Congress was quick to claim it as an INDIA alliance victory (the NC was the largest party). So then why have they suddenly changed their tune for MP?

What this tussle between the Congress and the SP reflects at a larger level is the confusion within the INDIA ranks about the nature and scope of the opposition alliance. Many of the smaller parties believe it extends to state elections also. But the Congress thinks the understanding should only be for the general elections. And it isn’t just the SP which has now fielded a number of candidates in Madhya Pradesh.

Another key INDIA member, the Aam Aadmi Party or AAP has announced candidates in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. There are now reports that Jayant Choudhary’s RLD, also a member of the INDIA grouping, is palling to put up candidates in Rajasthan, where it can influence Jat votes. Again, this is a state where the fight is normally a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP.

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Task cut out

It is quite clear now, that little progress has been made among INDIA parties on the question of seat sharing. At their last meeting in Mumbai in August, some parties were pushing for an early settlement of the seat sharing issue for the Lok Sabha polls, by the end of October, so that candidates had time to work and campaign in their constituencies.

We are now at the end of October, and this understanding is nowhere in sight. The Coordination Committee of the INDIA alliance has met just once, in mid September. There was an earlier announcement of a joint rally to be held in Bhopal in the first week of October but that was scuttled by Congress leader Kamal Nath who said the party machinery was too busy preparing for the state polls.

The bloc’s campaign committee had proposed joint rallies in Chennai, Guwahati, Delhi, Patna, and Nagpur. After that there has been no word on a public meeting. Some alliance leaders were told of the possibility of a rally in Nagpur once the Bhopal one got cancelled but even that talk has died down for the moment.

The opposition grouping generated much buzz when they came together in July, coming up with a clever name that got under the BJP’s skin. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts, the contradictions and tensions are coming to surface. And it will only get worse.

Leaders of some of the smaller opposition parties are now worried that if the Congress does well in the upcoming state polls, which is a real possibility, then the grand old party will become even more difficult to deal with in seat sharing talks for the Lok Sabha polls. And if there is one lesson for all of them to learn, it is that state polls increasingly don’t reflect a national trend. The opposition has its task cut out.