Playing second fiddle? Congress is loving it
Many Congress leaders pointed out that joining the hands of Shiv Sena to keep the BJP out of the government in Maharashtra was an extension of the same policy.Updated: Dec 24, 2019 11:26 IST
As the political binary of BJP versus Congress is fast changing across landscape of India, the latter has, time and again, expressed its willingness to be a junior partner to a strong regional outfit. the Jharkhand experiment was the latest addition to that policy.
And the strategy has mostly paid a rich dividend for the Congress.
The party’s acceptance of the position of a second fiddle had started primarily in Bihar when Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad was the undisputed king of the state. The Congress, committed to secular alliances but having lost a lot of ground in the post-Mandal Commission era in Bihar, had little option but to hold Prasad’s hand.
One of the popular stories of that period underlines the nature of equation between Prasad and Congress. Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had come to address a rally at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan when he got a call from Prasad: “Why are you bothering yourself by organising rallies in Bihar? I am here to look after your party,” a witty Prasad told Singh.
While Prasad had enjoyed strong ties with the Gandhi family (he was the first prominent leader to support Sonia Gandhi when her foreign origin was a key plank for the BJP), this happy-to-be-second policy extended to many uncharted territories quickly as the party faced backlash in key electoral areas.
In the assembly election of West Bengal in 2016, the Congress and the Left agreed on an unwritten pact and even campaigned for each other to take on Trinamool and a fast-rising BJP in Bengal. The Left failed to take advantage of this agreement and lost 14 seats but the Congress increased its tally by two seats.
Many Congress leaders pointed out that joining the hands of Shiv Sena to keep the BJP out of the government in Maharashtra was an extension of the same policy. NCP leader Sharad Pawar and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant Ahmed Patel sat for hours to iron out the differences and hammered a deal which saw, for the first time, the Congress joining a government led by Shiv Sena.
Similarly, in southern India, the Congress quickly offered the chief minister’s position to Janata Dal (Secular) in 2018 even as it was a bigger party than JD(S). The strategy, however, backfired as the BJP managed to claw back to power after rebellion in the ruling coalition’s ranks.
The party also happily played the junior partner’s role to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in the assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh in 2017. But the strategy failed to work as the BJP swept the state.
In two other south Indian states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the Congress has been able to forge a time-tested alliance with local players. While it leads the UDF alliance in Kerala, in Tamil Nadu it remains a junior partner of the DMK.