Provincialising Congress

The tragedy of the Congress is that in order to maintain its proud position as a national party with a pan Indian vision and appeal, it has steadily conceded ground at the state level to its allies. To retain power at the Centre, the Congress needs the support of the very political parties which are its rivals in the states. This has blunted its edge as a credible force at the state level. Paradoxically, as the Congress gets stronger at the Centre, it gets weaker in the states: it is in power in far fewer states under the Manmohan Singh Government than when Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister.

 

The latest blow is the betrayal by Lalu Prasad, considered the party’s most dependable ally. Playing the role of Brutus, Lalu has coolly divided up Bihar’s 40 parliamentary constituencies between Ram Vilas Paswan and himself , leaving the Congress out in the cold. The alliance preserved only three seats for the Congress , exactly the number the party won in the 2004 election. Lalu displayed no remorse, claiming the Congress was a non-starter in Bihar.

 

Bihar is merely the latest example of the Congress getting the wrong end of the stick in seat-sharing arrangements. For West Bengal’s 42 seats, it gets 14 candidates and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress 28. In the present Lok Sabha the Congress held six seats and the TC one. Constrained by the Left’s support to the Manmohan Singh government, the Congress scrupulously kept out of opposition politics in Bengal for nearly five years. The TC filled the vacuum and leapt to the forefront as the CPM’s main local challenger. In Maharashtra, the Congress needs to keep looking over its shoulder to keep the wily Sharad Pawar in check. The NCP, like all Congress’s state-level allies, demanded a bigger share of the pie than in 2004.

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