The Congress is maintaining a low profile in the Presidential polls for the sake of opposition unity, but despite that many regional parties want to maintain a distance from the grand old party due to electoral compulsions in their states.
Many regional parties are either breakaway factions of the Congress or sitting on a Congress vote base which is why they don’t want to strengthen the Congress which can ultimately lead to their weakening. Many alliances with the Congress have failed like it happened in 2017 when the Samajwadi Party joined hands with the Congress but was routed by the BJP.
Senior journalist Sanjeev Acharya has a different perspective. He says that in north India former Prime Minister late Narasimha Rao ensured that the party becomes weak. It allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and was destroyed. Later the party allied with the SP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal so the upper castes went away and now the party has shifted its focus to the SCs.
He says that in the Pachmarhi enclave the party had decided not to go with caste and communal based parties, so consistency should have been maintained. Now the party does not have anything to offer to the regional parties so these parties do not want the Congress to get strengthened.
A Congress leader who was a minister in Bihar said the same thing — that the Congress has nothing to offer to the regional parties as it has become weak so in state elections they do not care for the Congress but in parliamentary polls it is the Congress which will fight it out with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
First the Congress had this problem in north India but now in south India too with the emergence of the TRS and the YSRCP the Congress has little chance of making inroads without antagonizing the regional satraps like the Chief Minister of Telangana.
Similarly in Andhra Pradesh, the party has to make a choice between the TDP or going it alone as the YSRCP is unlikely to ally with the Congress. The party is in alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, with the JMM in Jharkhand and with the NCP-Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
In the North East, either the BJP or the regional parties have replaced the Congress and the alliance with the AIUDF failed in Assam. The party is zero in West Bengal and state chief minister Mamata Baneejee is not willing to play second fiddle to the Congress at the national level as she is herself trying to build an alliance of regional parties.
The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party outside Delhi has created another problem as regional parties are taking the place of the Congress in the states. A leader who recently left the Congress to join the BJP said, “the real problem is regional parties which are eating into Congress votes while the BJP is strengthening its vote base socially and through social sector schemes which played a key role in the recent electoral wins.”
States like UP, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal, where the regional parties are pitted against the Congress, are on the Congress agenda to focus on 180 Lok Sabha seats where there is minimal presence of the party which is a cause of concern. To get back its lost glory, the party has to form alliances to be a formidable challenger in the states.
The major test will be in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year, where the AAP is making inroads, then states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh which are going to the polls in 2023. These are the major states where the Congress has to perform better and win to throw a challenge to the BJP in the 2024 general elections.