Some Congress leaders have begun talking of the need of a Panchmarhi-kind of conclave to discuss the entire issue of pre-poll alliances and reexamine their experience in coalition politics in the backdrop of the party’s defeat in Koderma (in Jharkhand), the UPA's inability to field a common candidate in Bhagalpur and Nalanda (Bihar) where the BJP-NDA won and the saffron party’s gains in the civic polls in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress improved performance did not match its expectations.
A section in the Congress believes that its growth is being hampered not so much by the BJP-NDA as by its alliance partners—or other regional parties—as can be seen in the domination of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in UP or the Left Front in West Bengal. In fact, in states like Tamil Nadu and Bihar, the Congress is seen as the `B’ team of the DMK and the RJD.
At its Panchmarhi conclave in September 1998, the Congress had said that coalitions would be considered only when it was absolutely necessary and that too on the basis of an agreed programme which does not weaken its ideology or compromise its basic ideology.
This stand was modified at the Shimla conclave in July 2003, with Sonia Gandhi stating that she had an open mind on coalitions since the prevailing political situation made it incumbent on all secular forces to fight communalism fundamentalism and the BJP.
Congress leaders like Ashok Gehlot and Digvijay Singh have been known to be against the idea of a coalitions, no one is publicly talking about the issue as yet. But mid-way through the Congress-led UPA’s term at the Centre, a section in the party is keen that the party’s experience with pre-poll alliance be reviewed.
At present, the party is caught in a vicious circle where it has to bank on a coalition since it does not have much of a presence in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal which together account for 200 Lok Sabha seats. It cannot hope to revitalize itself in these states unless its allies and other regional parties like the RJD, the SP and the BSP show a decline. These parties had whisked away the Congress’ muslim and dalit base, while the BJP had walked away with the Brahmin vote. In fact, some of these parties derive their strength and relevance from the BJP’s presence.
A case in point is the RJD’s decision to contest in Bhagalpur. A common UPA candidate could have easily won the seat. But it would not helped Lalu prove his strength where his nominee lost by only 30000 votes. Similarly, the Congress put up its own candidate in Koderma in Jharkhand to try and reclaim the turf it had lost to Shibu Soren’ JMM. The Congress nominee lost to Babulal Marandi but helped the party come second.