Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot said the party would contest elections in alliance with other Opposition parties to stop the BJP.
The comments of Gehlot, who is in charge of the Congress organisation and enjoys the trust of Rahul Gandhi, not only reaffirms the party’s readiness to broaden the anti-BJP coalition at the national level but also in the next round of critical elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Gehlot told a news conference: “Every section of the society is troubled after four years of BJP rule. People are so anguished that they will mount pressure on the Opposition parties to come together.”
The Karnataka result too has reinforced the perception that the Narendra Modi juggernaut cannot be stopped without a challenge from a united Opposition.
Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have also stressed the importance of an alliance with at least the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has a significant support base in the three states.
These leaders, however, concede there could be insurmountable hurdles.
A Congress veteran said: “The noble intention to forge Opposition unity entails compromises and sacrifices nobody is willing to make. The Congress succeeded in Karnataka because of an extreme sacrifice – a party (Janata Dal Secular) having half the number of seats was allowed to lead the government. Will other parties demonstrate this commitment?”
While the BSP has maintained a substantial support base in Madhya Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and the Aam Aadmi Party have declared their intention to contest all 230 seats in the state.
Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh say the Samajwadi Party, which polled less than 2 per cent votes in the 2013 and 2008 elections, can only be a fringe player in any coalition.
The BSP won four seats in Madhya Pradesh and bagged 6.29 per cent of the votes in the 2013 Assembly polls. In 2008, it pocketed seven seats and 8.97 per cent of the votes polled. The Congress, which polled 8 per cent less votes than the BJP in 2013 and 5 per cent less votes in 2008, knows an alliance with the BSP can be a game-changer.
A senior leader said: “While the BSP is an asset, the Samajwadi Party is a liability. But we will accommodate both if the demands are reasonable. The chances look bleak as smaller parties want only the Congress to make sacrifices.”
In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the BSP’s support is even more critical.
In Chhattisgarh, where the difference of votes between the BJP and the Congress was merely 1.7 per cent in 2008 and 0.75 per cent in 2013, the BSP polled 6.11 per cent votes in 2008 and 4.27 per cent in 2013.
But this time, there will be another factor hurting the Congress – Ajit Jogi’s Chhattisgarh Janata Congress, with whom any understanding appears unthinkable.
In Rajasthan too, the Congress is more than keen to align with the BSP, which won six seats and polled 7.6 per cent votes in 2008 and three seats and 3.37 per cent votes in 2013.
The Congress is desperate in the desert state as the difference in vote share with the BJP in the last Assembly polls in 2013 was more than 11 per cent.
Senior Congress leaders, however, are praying that Mayawati will not make unacceptable demands and a seat-sharing deal can be settled according to a realistic assessment of the ground situation.
The Congress hopes this unique national political crisis is not seen as an opportunity to expand the party’s base and that leaders decide strategies with the sole objective of defeating the BJP.
A towering Opposition leader, Sharad Pawar of the NCP, hailed the Congress outreach to the JDS in Karnataka and expressed hope that Rahul and his party would behave with maturity and exhibit the spirit of cooperation in future too.
A post on the Congress website on Wednesday said: “An important takeaway from the (Karnataka) election is that if the Opposition unites and sets aside their own differences for the larger cause, then it won’t be long before Mr Modi and the BJP are shown the door.