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Cong Racing Against Time To Stitch Alliances In Maha, Bengal

| Updated: February 25, 2024 12:50

Despite the Congress managing to secure its alliances with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it is racing against time to reach a seat-sharing understanding in Bengal and Maharashtra. Though the general election is just a few months away, the INDIA bloc is yet to begin its campaign against the BJP’s formidable election machinery.

In Bengal, the Congress faces an uphill task to get Trinamool Congress back to the table. Trinamool chief and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier declared that she would go solo after talks with the Congress over seat-sharing fell through. The state Congress unit under Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury is learnt to have bargained for about 10 seats, but the Trinamool offered just two.

Following Chowdhury’s outburst against the Trinamool chief, in which he called her “opportunist”, Banerjee said last month that the Congress had rejected all her proposals. “We have decided to fight the elections in Bengal alone,” she said, adding that any decision on an alliance will be taken after the polls.

Since then, the Congress leadership has been trying to get Banerjee back on board, with Rahul Gandhi saying that Chowdhury’s sharp remarks against the Trinamool chief “won’t matter”.

Chowdhury continues to target the Trinamool and has claimed that there are difference within the party on whether to ally with Congress or not. “They are in a dilemma. They are not saying officially that the process of forging the alliance has ended. The first dilemma is a section of the party believes that if they contest alone, without the INDIA alliance, then the minorities of West Bengal will vote against them. One section of the TMC wants the alliance to continue. Another section is in another dilemma that if the alliance is given more importance in Bengal, then the Modi government will use ED, and CBI against them. Because of these two dilemmas, the TMC has not been able to make a clear decision,” he has claimed.

Banerjee also did not join the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra passing through Bengal, depriving the INDIA bloc to showcase optics that would have helped the alliance counter the BJP’s political attacks over underlying conflict within the Opposition front. In the case of an understanding now, the two parties will face the tall challenge of hurriedly putting together a joint campaign plan and reaching out to the voters.

In Maharashtra, too, the INDIA bloc is yet to announce a seat-sharing plan. Discussions between Maha Vikas Aghadi, comprising Congress, Shiv Sena (Balasaheb Uddhav Thackeray) and the Sharad Pawar-led faction of NCP are in the final phase.

Rahul Gandhi is learnt to have spoken to Thackeray over a deadlock. The Congress, sources say, wants to contest three of Mumbai’s six Lok Sabha seats – Mumbai South Central, Mumbai North Central and Mumbai North West. Thackeray reportedly wants to contest 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state, including four in Mumbai – Mumbai South, Mumbai North West, Mumbai North East and Mumbai South Central. The two leaders spoke for an hour to find a way out of the impasse.

The Congress has also suffered setbacks in Maharashtra in the exits of three senior leaders — Milind Deora, Ashok Chavan and Baba Siddique.

State Congress chief Nana Patole has said there is no disagreement within the alliance and stressed that MVA will perform well in the upcoming polls. “There are no disagreements or dispute on the issue of seat sharing among the MVA allies. It is the ruling Mahayuti which is in turmoil due to lack of coordination. The people of Maharashtra will show BJP and its allies their place in the coming elections,” Patole said.

A big challenge for INDIA bloc in Maharashtra is that two main parties, Shiv Sena and NCP, have split and their leaders Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar have lost the party name and symbol. A big task would be to spread awareness among voters about their new name and symbol to ensure that people, especially in rural and backward areas, know which symbol to cast their vote on.

Once the seat-sharing is finalised, the three parties will need to start joint campaigns to take on the BJP. With polls just months away, they are on a very tight deadline.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has secured 17 out of 80 seats. In return, it has given one seat in Madhya Pradesh to the Akhilesh Yadav-led party. With AAP, the party has finalised seat-sharing for Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Chandigarh and Goa. The two parties have agreed to go solo in Punjab, where they are arch-rivals.

AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said there is no hostility between the allies over the Punjab arrangement. In Delhi, the Congress will contest three out of seven seats. And in Gujarat, the AAP will fight two out of 26 seats. In Haryana, the Congress and AAP will contest 8 and one seat, respectively. The Chandigarh seat and two seats in Goa have gone to Congress under the pact.

A big challenge in these seats, however, will be to balance grassroots leaders’ sentiments with the larger goal of taking on the BJP. For example, AAP securing the Bharuch seat, a stronghold of Congress veteran, late Ahmed Patel, has drawn strong reaction. Congress leaders, including Patel’s son Faisal Ahmed Patel, have said that the party must have retained the seat for winnability alone and that Congress workers are upset. While the AAP has said it would soon sit with the Congress to chalk out a strategy in this key seat, reaching an agreement may not be easy.

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