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'Ram Mandir has rattled Opposition'

Last updated on: January 30, 2024 10:45 IST

'The consecration of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya has demoralised them.'
'And, now it is reflecting in their individual reactions as they are losing hope to take on the BJP in 2024.'

IMAGE: Newly sworn-in Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy CM Samrat Chaudhary exchange greetings at Raj Bhavan in Patna on Sunday, January 28, 2024.
Nitish Kumar was sworn in as Bihar CM for the ninth time after he along with his Janata Dal-United party joined the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA bloc. Photograph: ANI Photo

Last year, when 28 Opposition parties got together to form the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to take on Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2024 general elections, it seemed like the battle had been joined.

On Sunday, January 28, 2024, the INDIA bloc unravelled with its chief architect, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, joining hands with the very same party he had vowed to defeat in the elections.

Prior to that, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee virtually shut the door on a pre-poll alliance with the Congress party.

And in Punjab and Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party has been striking a discordant note over seat-sharing with the Congress.

What has led to the near break-up in the alliance that on paper at least looked formidable and seemed set to give a tough fight to the BJP?

To understand more, Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ spoke to Rasheed Kidwai, the veteran Congress watcher and author of 24 Akbar Road and Sonia-A Biography.

Why did Nitish Kumar drift away?

It should be emphasised again that the INDIA bloc is not ideologically driven.

It does not run on an economic programme or social programme.

They are driven by the doctrine of necessity.

In individual capacity they cannot defeat Narendra Modi, therefore they have come together.

The Congress as a senior player should have created a wider platform where a common cause was deliberated and taken.

Take the example of the Ram Mandir invitation sent to the Opposition parties. INDIA did not take a common stance.

Every leader, be it from different party of INDIA bloc like Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav or the Congress party's stance. They all are different. In this the Left parties' articulation was drastically different.

The Ram Mandir was a very sensitive, emotive issue. It had emotional implication and political implication.

Why is the INDIA bloc collapsing?

The event on January 22 in Ayodhya has rattled the Opposition parties.

Though the INDIA parties were ideologically opposed to each other and came together against the BJP, the consecration of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya has demoralised them.

And, now it is reflecting in their individual reactions as they are losing hope to take on the BJP in 2024.

Therefore, a blame game has started now as we are three-four months away from general elections, which is a poor reflection on Opposition party politics.

Have these problems among different parties started post January 22, or did they have a problem coming together in the first place?

From the beginning the INDIA bloc lacked a degree of cohesiveness as the role of convener was missing.

Mamata Banerjee had more than one reason to be disappointed because she tried to prop up Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge as the prime ministerial candidate or chairman of the INDIA bloc, but this was vetoed due to the internal dynamics of the Congress party.

Nitish Kumar got mini constituents in INDIA bloc and also parties like the Aam Aadmi Party and Trinamool Congress. He also tried to reach out to KCR (K Chandrasekhar Rao, leader of the Bharat Rashtriya Samithi) and Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Mohan Reddy to be a part of the INDIA bloc so that it could be a broad based alliance. (But this did not happen) so, he had reasons to be disappointed.

The real problem with the INDIA bloc is that it has no leader. Mallikarjun Kharge is the Congress president, but the real leadership of the party is with the Gandhi family.

Sonia Gandhi is in semi-retirement mode. She can still change things if she speaks directly to Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar and use Laloo Yadav's services. But she is playing the role of bystander for now.

Do you think the INDIA constituents should have gone to the Ram Mandir consecration?

I am nobody to suggest that to them.

One thing though you will agree with me is that these 28 political parties of the INDIA bloc should have sat together and taken a unanimous call on the Ram Mandir invitation.

Every party spoke in a different language on this issue.

Akhilesh Yadav said he is privileged to be invited and he will definitely go. He thanked them for the invitation and that he would decide his time to go to Ayodhya.

A similar reaction was given by Sharad Pawar.

The Congress was seen as taking a confrontational and conflicting stance within the party. Rahul Gandhi said it was a BJP event whereas his own party chief minister, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in Himachal Pradesh, declared a holiday and lit up his house with lights.

The Pradesh Congress Committee in Bhopal lit up with lights on January 22 and they stated 'Rajivji ka sapna saakar hua (Rajiv Gandhi's dream of constructing a Ram temple has been done).'

The Congress party did not have a consistent approach on Ayodhya.

What about the fact that Congress leaders say that the Ram Mandir issue will have an impact only in the North (excluding Punjab) and Western India?

If you are an academician you can make such statements, but if you are a political party then you cannot say such things.

There are 200 seats that come from the Hindi belt and Gujarat. In many seats there is a direct contest between the Congress and BJP where the BJP's strike rate has been over 90 percent in the 2019 elections.

All the Congress had to do was to reduce this margin to 50 percent in the 2024 elections. If they do that, they would be in the race.

If you talk like an academician for these 200 seats, then it is politically suicidal. You are giving up on 200 Lok Sabha seats, then what hope do you have to win the 2024 elections?

Therefore the approach of a political party should be very different from the approach of a social scientist, civil society or an academician. So, Rahul Gandhi must define himself.

What about Mamata Banerjee? Why does she prefer to dump INDIA and go it alone in the 2024 elections?

In a game of chess, what do you do? You sacrifice your pawn to beat your opponent. It is the done thing to win the game.

For Rahul Gandhi, the pawn (Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury) seems to be more important than checkmating his opponent (Narendra Damodardas Modi).

Adhir is going against the party norms of one man one post as he is holding two posts. The Congress should have taken a stand on whether he continues as leader of the party in the Lok Sabha or remain the West Bengal Congress chief.

When you are in an alliance you need to cap things in your party.

Mamata Banerjee gave a suggestion that Kharge, a Dalit leader, should be projected as the prime ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi, then there would have been some traction towards INDIA. This would have posed a difficulty for Mayawati.

We have 15 percent of Dalits in the country and around 16 percent of Muslims and all these adding up of numbers would have brought some sense of purpose in the Opposition ranks.

Kharge has a lot of experience in public life. He has been an MLA several times and several times as a member of Parliament, besides being leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha.

Who opposed his candidature as PM candidate in the Congress party?

Nobody opposed it, and that is the tragedy. Inaction kills a lot of enterprise in the Congress party.

Rahul Gandhi is not very innocent in all these things. He is doing a yatra and these things are fine, but at the same time he does not want to lose his grip over the Indian National Congress or INDIA.

For every decision, Kharge meets Rahul Gandhi at an informal level for his clearance and Sonia Gandhi has become a bystander. She does not want to intervene because she believes if she intervenes it will politically undermine Rahul Gandhi's stature.

Therefore, this INDIA bloc is an assembly of people happy to be unhappy.