As parties put their heads together to cobble out an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has struck a note of caution and said it will not ignore the interests of its state leaders for the sake of regional tie-ups.
Congress media head Randeep Surjewala has said that while the party has a time-tested policy of working with ideologically compatible parties, it will not abandon the interests of its state leaders.
"The Indian National Congress will never sacrifice the interests of a state leadership and aspirations of its workers. An ideal balance will be struck on a state to state basis," Surjewala told PTI.
He made the case for state-specific alliances while arguing for a larger coalition with like-minded parties in 'national interest'.
"The Congress has a time-tested and well defined policy of working hand in hand with ideologically compatible political parties," he said.
A committee headed by former minister A K Antony would take a final call on alliances after discussions with state leaders and those in charge of the states, he said.
"In national interest we shall further strengthen energies to bring together like- minded parties on a common platform and a common agenda. However, INC will never sacrifice the interests of a state leadership," Surjewala said.
The reiteration of 'state-specific tie-ups' comes when the Congress has been facing a rebellion in its Kerala unit after it decided to give up the lone Rajya Sabha seat from the state to its estranged ally, the Kerala Congress-Mani.
The KC-M had quit the Congress-led United Democratic Front on the eve of the last state polls and contested by itself, making a dent in the Congress votes in the process.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi's decision to give the party's Rajya Sabha seat to the KC-M was aimed at bringing the old ally back to the party fold ahead of the 2019 LS polls, but led to unprecedented protests in the state party.
As the Congress pursues an anti-NDA grouping, it would have to consider the possibility of regional parties demanding a bigger pie in the seat-sharing talks.
While striking state-specific pacts for the General Elections would not pose a problem in some states such as Karnataka, where the party has already announced a pact with the Janata Dal-Secular, it would have have to conduct a fine balancing act in some other areas.
West Bengal is a case in point where the state Congress leadership has been openly attacking Trinamool Congress chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for 'murdering democracy' in the recent panchayat polls.
West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has been issuing statements against Banerjee, who has been projecting herself as an important pillar of any anti-BJP structure for 2019.
The Congress will have to factor in the views of its Bengal leadership while building any understanding in the state either with the TMC or the Left.
In Punjab and Delhi, the state units of the Congress have rejected suggestions on aligning with the Aam Aadmi Party.
Delhi Congress chief Ajay Makan has said the party does not need any ally in the state. All India Congress Committee in charge of Punjab Asha Kumari has dismissed as 'baseless' talks of a possible alliance with the AAP in the state.
In Rajasthan, too, state Congress chief Sachin Pilot has indicated the party would rather go solo when a section of Congress leaders has been advocating a pact with the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Though in election-bound Madhya Pradesh, state Congress president Kamal Nath is in talks with the BSP for the upcoming Assembly election, it remains to be seen whether the party will part with the number of seats BSP chief Mayawati has been seeking.
In Uttar Pradesh, too, the Congress will be faced with a difficult choice of seat sharing as the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the BSP and the Samajwadi Party have shown they can lead the race to defeat the BJP without aligning with the Congress.
Candidates of the BSP-SP combine defeated BJP nominees in the high profile Lok Sabha bypolls to Gorakhpur and Phulpur where the Congress candidates lost their deposits.
Eating humble pie, the Congress backed the RLD-SP alliance nominee in the just concluded Kairana Parliamentary seat by-election in UP. The candidate won, giving regional parties in the state a clear edge over the Congress.
In election-bound Chhattisgarh, the Congress is facing a new rival in former CWC member and chief minister Ajit Jogi. The Congress leadership is still debating whether to ally with him.
The Grand Old Party may, however, find negotiations easier in states such as Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir where it has already worked with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Nationalist Congress Party and National Conference respectively in the past.
The allies have also been putting pressure on the Congress to be more flexible in its negotiations. Opposition leaders have said the Congress will have to show openness and flexibility and ensure that it gives space to other parties.
"Congress should give space to regional parties and there should be more give and take to help bring everyone together on one common platform," senior NCP leader Tariq Anwar, a former Congressman, had said.