At political nadir, Congress leaders clinging to Big Brother syndrome

What explains Jairam Ramesh's terse reciprocation to Nitish Kumar’s proposal that the Congress take a call on opposition unity?

Jairam Ramesh, Amit Shah, CBI, Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma
Stung by the realisation that mere terse speaking was not enough, Jairam Ramesh outlined three broader strategies. File photo

Notwithstanding lurid claims of the Congress communication chief Jairam Ramesh that “the party knows its role for forging an alliance ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections to take on the BJP and oust it from power”, his terse reciprocation to Nitish Kumar’s offer sends a message which is laden with different contour and connotation.

Nitish Kumar’s proposition did not bear the impression that he was resorting to one-upmanship. His was purely a political proposal to the Congress that it should take a call at the earliest on forging an alliance of opposition parties to take on the BJP in the 2024 elections.

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Instead of supplementing his gesture through a political reply, Ramesh retorted: “Nobody needs to give a certificate to the Congress that it has to take a lead in opposition unity as we know that any opposition platform without Congress will be unsuccessful. Without Congress, a strong opposition unity is impossible.”


If the Congress leaders had been really serious in their fight against the BJP, the political situation would not have declined to such an extent wherein the democratic institutions and their functioning are facing an existential crisis. 

Watch: BRS leader K Kavitha speaks about Congress and opposition unit

After the party met with its Waterloo in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Rahul Gandhi, who was then the president, had put in his papers with a sneer that he did not receive the needed support from other leaders. His pain obviously manifested that even the leaders of national stature did not stand behind him. If the Congress, naturally the leader, was fighting against the BJP, what conjured Rahul to make such a disconsolate observation?        

Rahul and his yatra

Through his Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul strived to put the counter narrative to the RSS and BJP narrative of politics of hate and divisiveness, in public domain. But for most Congress leaders, even those from the opposition parties, it appeared to be an exercise for electoral gains. Obviously, in this scenario, Nitish urging for Congress’ green signal to start corralling opposition parties in a camp should not have been derided.  Instead the Congress leaders tersely said it needs no reminding about its lead role in forging anti-BJP unity.

The worst aspect was, coinciding with the terse comment, some Congress leaders counselled “two-faced parties” which proclaim commitment to the opposition but play footsie with the BJP to maintain restraint. It is an open secret that Nitish Kumar has been an ally of the BJP-led NDA. Last August, he parted company.

Though some leaders correlate the phrase “two-faced parties” with TMC of Mamata Banerjee, BJP leaders have been using the phrase to humiliate Nitish. They say: “We have been saying he is unreliable and this has even been endorsed by the Congress.” As if reiterating the phrase “two-faced parties” was not enough, the leaders indicated that a united national front against the BJP appeared impossible as some “double-faced” parties in the opposition camp could not be trusted in the critical Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

What Nitish wants

Nitish’s desire has been unpalatable for the Congress leaders. They perceive it as underlining the failure of the party, and its leaders as not being alive to their responsibility of creating partnership to take on the Modi-led BJP in 2024. True enough, the Congress leaders should have welcomed Nitish’s statement as it made explicit that opposition leaders have accepted the criticality of Congress in the opposition camp; by virtue of this, they would concede the leadership of a united opposition to Rahul, which has been a matter of wide speculation in national politics.

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Stung by the realisation that mere terse speaking was not enough, Jairam Ramesh outlined three broader strategies. One, no credible alternative is possible without the Congress. Two, the Congress doesn’t need a certificate from anybody on its seriousness about fighting the BJP. Three, Congress’s immediate priority is the crucial Assembly elections coming up in 2023.

Realpolitik has its own compulsions and preferences and these can only be dictated by the emerging political obligations. Instead of tossing jibes, they would have reiterated what they later told the media: “The plenary session of the party in Chhattisgarh will discuss the policy and its nitty gritty regarding the creation of a united bloc.” That would not have dampened the spirit of the opposition camp.

CPI-ML’s suggestion 

What has really been interesting to watch is that the formal political initiative has been mooted by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), a party which had initiated the armed struggle in the 1960s from Naxalbari in Bengal. This simply underlines the potent threat from the rightist forces. Nitish had made this observation while addressing the ‘Save Constitution, Save Democracy, Save India’ convention organised as part of the 11th CPI-ML Congress in Patna.

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Nitish had urged the Congress to seize the moment and act quickly to unite the opposition. Of course, he also cautioned the Congress: “I want you (Congress) to take a quick decision. If they take my suggestion and fight together, they (BJP) will go below 100 seats, but if they don’t take my suggestion, you know what will happen. The Bharat Jodo Yatra went very well. But the Grand Old Party must think beyond the yatra.”

Nevertheless, Nitish received a major boost with Congress leader Salman Kurshid assuring him that he would take the message to the party high command and, if required, advocate for it. Khurshid, who was also present at the CPI(ML) convention, said: “You raised many points, some openly and some discreetly. As far as my understanding goes, the Congress is thinking likewise.” 

Salman Khurshid’s assurance

Khurshid said that his party also shares similar intent. “The situation is akin to lovers taking their time to decide who should say I love you first…it happens that sometimes an inexperienced lover is uninhibited enough to make the first move,” he said. He also suggested that the opposition pursue the “Bihar model” against the BJP’s “hate model”.

While the Congress entered into polemics with Nitish, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechri and RJD chief Lalu Prasad also used their might to give a major push to unity efforts.  Though in the form of a “courtesy call”,  Yechury called on Lalu to explore the formation of a united forum. The CPI-M, which earlier advocated for an alternative front minus BJP and Congress, has reconciled to the idea of working with the Congress.