Miffed allies and federal parties stay away from its meet on CAA-NRC, unwilling to yield the Opposition space
The Congress, for some reason, continues to lull itself into an arrogant assumption of its natural leadership of the Opposition, expecting all federal parties to unify under the notional idea of its national role and identity. Perhaps, it is still at pains to reconcile with the fact that its State allies are shoring up its prospects or that its talk points are being gifted by them. Or after the failure of the mahagathbandhan, a grand umbrella of regional parties, at the Lok Sabha polls last year — which it torpedoed wilfully since it didn’t get the vote of leadership — it feels it alone is qualified to be the face of Opposition unity. Yet if widespread and continued protests over the contentious citizenship law and a proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) are any indication, then students and civil society have clearly filled up the vacuum left by the Opposition. And now that dots of agitations have assumed a pan-India momentum, the Congress has rushed in, knowing full well that the movement can never be of consequence till it gets political sanctity. Problem is the champions of the movement would rather continue leaderless than trust the Congress, which is still looking to reap the benefit of the groundwork done by others. So an all-Opposition front meeting on CAA-NRC called by it ended in a whimper, far from the show of strength it had intended it to be. And this failure of the Congress to downsize its ego and wisen up, despite the circumstances that are actually most favourable to the Opposition now, will only end up helping the ruling BJP during the Budget session of Parliament. For the BJP had certainly not bargained for such a hitback to its policies within six months of winning a mammoth verdict. The Congress grandstanding fizzled out as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi and even its allies in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, the DMK and Shiv Sena, stayed away from the meeting. Clearly, the State leaders have still not forgiven the Congress for not making common cause with them during the Lok Sabha elections last year. And are now best placed to chew it up rather than let the party chew on them. Besides, they have realised that in the absence of a monolithic leader from their midst, it would be better for them to reclaim their States, consolidate their hold on them and unitedly voice their stand against the BJP at the Centre. That would be far better than chasing national ambitions.
This is particularly true of Banerjee, who has burnt her fingers as an architect of the mahagathbandhan and loosened her grip over her State as she pursued national ambitions. She is hell bent on steadying her own ship. Besides, she has been among the first Opposition Chief Ministers to lead a crusade against the Government’s policies and expose the regime’s exclusionary intent regarding Muslims by linking the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) with the NRC. She doesn’t want her cause hijacked yet again. Besides, she has to justify her politics at the State level, which she has built in opposition to both the Left and the Congress and, therefore, cannot afford any hypocrisy. It is the same reason why AAP is staying away as it has to fight both the BJP and Congress in the Assembly elections. It is maintaining an equidistance and pitching its own performance record of integrity as a believable counterpoint. And that strategy seems to be working as three Congress leaders joined it over the last few days. DMK chief MK Stalin and the Shiv Sena, like Mamata, want their undiluted take on CAA to be heard. The BSP, upset by the Congress poaching its MLAs in Rajasthan, isn’t keen to be part of a need-based arrangement with the national party either. So it is rather naive of the Congress to bet on its traditional style of politics. Besides, the party leadership was tepid and cautious when the first wave of protests broke out, with Rahul Gandhi in hibernation. Priyanka Gandhi was the only one consistent about siding with the cause, but that had more to do with nursing the party back to health in Uttar Pradesh than scripting an Opposition strategy. However, India’s youth have birthed new leaders and do not need to rely on the “youthful” face of the Congress leadership, which has sadly been reduced to an apparition that tries to be conscientious. If the Congress wants to avoid further misadventures, it should take a risk with a new strategy, issues and leadership.