By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2022-05-17 01:52:54
Rahul Gandhi should seriously approach top publishers across the world to write a book titled "How to lose friends and antagonize people". For, the portion of his speech at Udaipur where he went after regional parties was nothing short of a master class on the subject. At a time when the Congress needs to enter into strategic alliances with regional parties for its revival, its top leader, who aspires to lead the opposition alliance and hopes to become the prime minister of the nation, has chosen to question their ideological strength to fight against the BJP and has, in the process, antagonized them like never before.
The reaction has been swift and savage. Regional parties, irrespective of the fact whether they are in alliance with the Congress or not, have criticized Rahul Gandhi for questioning their ideological commitment against divisive and majoritarian politics of the BJP at a time when the Congress has itself diluted its secular stance by adopting soft Hindutva to counter it.
While alliance partner Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), with whom the Congress is running the government in Jharkhand, questioned Rahul Gandhi's authority to make such comments and reminded him that "the fact remains that it is these regional parties on which the Congress is dependent for a fight or a win", the other alliance partner, Shiv Sena, said that "it has been regional parties who have strongly thwarted any attempts made to undermine constitutional democracy" and have also "shown how regional aspirations and national ambitions can seamlessly merge for the betterment of the country". The RJD in Bihar called Rahul speech "unfortunate" and reminded him of Tejashwi Yadav's advice that the Congress should concentrate on 250-255 seats where it has direct fights with the BJP and leave the rest to regional parties. Yet another alliance partner, the DMK, chose to maintain silence for now.
On the other hand, the TMC tore into Rahul. It said that it was the Congress which was handing seats on a platter to the BJP where they were in a direct fight and also said that "the reality is that the Congress is unable to defeat the BJP". AAP spokesman questioned what Rahul meant by regional and national as it has been junior partner to SP and DMK for years while TRS said that Rahul should look at the state Congress is in before making such comments. BJD said that "regional parties are being trusted by the people and given more and more responsibilities" in many states. Even parties well disposed towards the Congress, like the National Conference, were livid.
It is clear that Rahul Gandhi has stepped on too many toes with his unwelcome speech. His stance also ran contrary to the declaration adopted by the Congress at the chintan shivir about keeping options open for alliances with "like-minded parties". Now there will be damage control exercises when it will be said that Rahul was misunderstood and he did not mean it 'that' way. But the fact is that while many opposition parties where refusing to accept that the Congress was the 'natural' choice to lead the opposition front, some others were grudgingly accepting the fact given the Congress' all-India infrastructure and presence in several states. It now seems that these parties will also have second thoughts.