INDIA bloc must stay together, build on gains - Hindustan Times
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INDIA bloc must stay together, build on gains

Jun 10, 2024 01:40 AM IST

Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, even UP, have shown that political dominance cannot be taken for granted.

Uttar Pradesh (UP) was pivotal in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s tally falling. Till recently, UP was “blessed” with a narrative of good governance backed by the so-called two-engine perception. The bulldozer and encounter politics, odious to some but applauded by others, never got traction as an election issue. The “five nyay, 25 guarantees” of the Congress manifesto was backed by the Picchde, Dalit, Alpsankhyak (backward classes, Dalits, and minorities), or PDA, the outreach of the Samajwadi Party (SP), carefully crafting a non-Yadav backward profile. The results have certainly come as a shot in the arm for the two major alliance partners, but require some analysis to uncover the truth under the surface.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addresses the media in the presence of senior members of the Opposition INDIA bloc, after a meeting of the alliance in Delhi on Wednesday. (Sanjeev Verma / Hindustan Times)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addresses the media in the presence of senior members of the Opposition INDIA bloc, after a meeting of the alliance in Delhi on Wednesday. (Sanjeev Verma / Hindustan Times)(HT_PRINT)

More importantly, the apparent outcome of the alliance does not reflect any real-time performance of the parties that have dominated UP politics. The SP had contested 63 seats while the Congress was given 17. The final tally was 38 and 7, respectively. The Congress had initiated negotiations with a wishlist of 24 (mostly the surviving winners of 2009), but the SP prematurely announced a list of candidates in constituencies on our wishlist). At that stage, we were not unduly confident, there were clear signals that Muslims had turned to us in large numbers, while, in the 2019 assembly polls, 99% had voted for the SP. In the worst-case scenario, they could desert the SP completely. But we were firm that the need of the hour called for an honest alliance. We made efforts to negotiate better allocation but finally settled for what we were offered, to quickly clinch the date for a road show in Agra. Many of our leaders thought we deserved 25 seats but a sacrifice had to be made to oust the BJP. At that stage, we had one seat in UP (Rae Bareli) and the SP had five (in their alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Some people kept up the refrain of a tie-up with the BSP, but that was stillborn. There was no enthusiasm for the BSP amongst the SP negotiators although their party’s standing at the time was a contribution of their previous election tie-up with the SP.

The feel of the election turned increasingly positive with each passing phase. It must be said that, with a few exceptions, the workers of our two parties coordinated honestly despite different political cultures. The result is there for all to see.

It is yet very early to look at the path ahead, given that the INDIA bloc does not look like forming a government in the near future. Working cohesively as the parliamentary Opposition can make a great difference, but will have to wait till the MPs settle down. Perhaps more important is the road ahead at the ground level in UP. We have often been at loggerheads in routine, daily politics, all of which was put on hold during the campaign. But we will have to learn to live together without obliterating our respective identities. Fortunately, we belong to the same side of the ideological divide in politics with minor differences in emphasis and perhaps, style. It would, of course, be useful if we were quickly able to define our respective understanding of socialism and secularism. There may not be much difference beyond the words that are employed. But there may be some difficulty in matching our respective assessment of the voter segment that was drawn to us although there would have been aggregation amongst voters because of the alliance.

One nationwide indicator of this election is the mass movement of Muslims to the Congress with UP being an exemplar. We need to be clear that there are expectations that we must address if we want to revive a long-term relationship.

This is also true about Dalits and some segments of the general castes. This has a lot to do with self-generated hopes and expectations amongst minorities as indeed with our conscious endeavour to overcome their hesitations caused by history. Similarly, Dalits and OBCs have looked at the Congress as the outspoken saviour of the Constitution. Of course, Akhilesh Yadav has consolidated the Yadav vote that the BJP was constantly trying to wean away. Sitting down to draw up lists for electoral contests is tough enough but sharing the ground after election results is far more difficult. It would not be fair to the INDIA partners if we restrict each other’s freedom to grow and reward our committed supporters even as we share the advantages of having fought this historic election together. There will be elections again in the future and the lessons learnt in 2024 may well show us how to deal with the road ahead. Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, even UP, have shown that political dominance cannot be taken for granted.

Salman Khurshid is a Congress leader and former minister of external affairs. The views expressed are personal

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