INDIA parties worried Congress’s failure to share seats in poll-bound states hurts alliance

Kamal Nath, the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress, arrives to interact with media at the party office, in Bhopal, on 8 November. The recent spat between Nath and Samajwadi party supremo Akhilesh Yadav over seat-sharing in the poll-bound state raised concerns about the Congress’s commitment to the opposition bloc, INDIA. ANI
11 November, 2023

If the assembly elections are a preview for 2024, as many are calling it, should the Congress have capitalised on the utility of its Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance partners in poll-bound states and firmed up the opposition bloc as a result? The party’s INDIA colleagues certainly think so, and are criticising the Congress for missing the opportunity. The Congress and other members of the national alliance are now pitted against each other in multiple states, especially Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. A recent quarrel between the Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and the Congress’s chief ministerial face Kamal Nath over seat sharing in Madhya Pradesh, which goes to polls next week, raised questions about the disconnect between the Congress leadership at the national and state levels vis-à-vis the INDIA as well as the Congress’s commitment to the opposition bloc.

The dissonance had become evident with Congress party leaders’ contradictory statements on the Sanantan Dharma controversy earlier this year, and has continued since. In October, news reports suggested that the Congress and the SP were in contact to discuss a seat-sharing formula for the INDIA in Madhya Pradesh, but the talks went south soon enough after Nath refused to cede ground. In the 2018 elections, the SP had won one seat in the state and had come second in five others. It has maintained a small but consistent presence in the state, especially in areas bordering Uttar Pradesh.

Both Yadav and Nath have since derided each other publicly. “The state chief has no authority,” Yadav told the media. “He was not there in the meeting held at Patna, Mumbai. What does he know about the INDIA alliance?  These people from Congress are involved with the BJP. If I had known that the alliance is not on the state level then I would not have sent SP leaders to Digvijaya Singh,” he added. “I would not have trusted them if I had known that people from Congress would betray us.” When asked by the media about Yadav’s accusation, Nath derisively responded, “Leave aside this Akhilesh vakhilesh.” Yadav then accused the Congress of being a “sly” party that was raising the issue of the caste census only to win votes. The SP has since announced candidates for over forty seats in the state.

“Kamal Nath is ignoring INDIA alliance coordination committee decisions,” Javed Ali Khan, a Rajya Sabha member of parliament from the Samajwadi Party and a member of the INDIA coordination committee, told me. INDIA members were due to meet in October, in Bhopal, to discuss its planks for the general election. At the sidelines of a press interaction for another Congress event, Nath announced that the rally had been cancelled—a surprise for other INDIA members. “Not Congress party, Kamal Nath declared it suo moto,” Khan said. In the lead up to the state polls, Nath also violated INDIA’s decision to boycott “hate-filled” primetime shows of 14 mainstream TV news anchors, which the alliance bloc announced in mid September. He recently gave an interview to anchors Navika Kumar of Times Now, who featured on the list.