In the wake of assembly election debacles in three states, the Congress party has deferred a meeting of the INDIA bloc to later this month after being snubbed by key allies like the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Samajwadi Party (SP).
In the assembly elections in the five states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram, the Congress party suffered defeats in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh that it ruled. While it looked forward to wresting MP from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it not just failed to win the state but also witnessed further erosion in the state as the BJP secured a two-thirds majority in the state. Telangana remained the only consolation prize for Congress.
Even as the counting of votes was going on for the five assembly elections, Congress called for a meeting of the INDIA bloc on Wednesday. Key leaders of the 26-party bloc, however, snubbed the Grand Old Party as their leaders refused to attend the meeting. Observers have seen the snub as a sign of the fall in the Congress party's standing in the bloc and the regional parties seeking more space and say in the bloc's functioning.
The leaders who snubbed the INDIA bloc's meeting were West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. In the weeks in the run-up to the meeting's announcement, Congress and SP leaders were embroiled in bitter exchanges that brought forth the internal contradictions of their partnerships to the fore.
Now, after being snubbed by partners, Congress has decided to hold the meeting in the third week of December, said Gurdeep Singh Sappal, Coordinator of the Office of Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge.
A separate meeting of the parliamentary floor leaders of the parties constituting the INDIA coalition, however, would go ahead as per the schedule on Wednesday at Kharge's residence, according to Sappal.
While the exact date of the meeting has not yet been announced, IANS quoted Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav as saying that the meeting has been fixed for December 17.
What Have INDIA Leaders Said?
After the INDIA bloc's meeting was postponed, leaders from Congress and others sought to downplay the situation.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Priyanka Chaturvedi said that the meeting was not "postponed" and discussions would still take place among the parliamentary leaders at Kharge's residence on Wednesday. The bloc's meeting will take place on Wednesday and coordination and seat sharing will be discussed among the leaders, PTI quoted Chaturvedi as saying. She further said that the top leadership of the parties will endorse the same during their meeting later this month.
Similarly, Congress leader Naseer Hussain was quoted as saying by PTI that the election results would have no bearing on the opposition unity and its alliance is intact.
Sources have further said that the leaders who refused to attend the meeting had their reasons, such as prior commitments and poor health. The PTI reported sources as saying that Nitish, Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin is unable to travel as a cyclone is raging in southern India, and Mamata is busy at a family wedding.
"But the INDIA bloc meeting is on. It will be attended by the floor leaders of the parties at 6 pm on Wednesday at the 10, Rajaji Marg residence of the Congress president," a source told PTI.
Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party (SP) stated that chief Akhilesh Yadav had no intention of attending the Wednesday's meeting.
"The SP president has no plans to attend the meeting of the INDIA bloc on Wednesday. Ram Gopal Yadav or any other leader authorised by the national president will go for the meeting," said SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary to PTI. In Delhi, SP leader Ramgopal said his party will attend the meeting, but added Akhilesh may not be present.
"It does not matter if a leader does not participate. All parties will be there at the meeting," Ram Gopal Yadav said. "Leaders are busy. They have prior commitments ... the meeting was announced suddenly. Akhilesh will not attend it as he has some programmes in Purvanchal, I will attend (the meeting)," said Ramgopal, who is also the uncle of Akhilesh.
Rumbling In INDIA Coalition?
While the Congress party and some constituents have sought to downplay the postponement of the INDIA bloc's meeting, clear criticism of the Grand Old Party has come from INDIA coalition members.
In the run-up to the assembly election results, Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) had often spurred with leaders of the two parties having sharp exchanges. SP leaders, including party chief Akhilesh Yadav, have rued that Congress should have had a pre-poll alliance in Madhya Pradesh with SP.
In some other quarters as well, criticism has come over the dominating nature of the Congress party and the snub of Wednesday's meeting was seen as their call for greater accommodation of regional partners in the bloc's decision-making and seat allocation.
After the assembly election results came out, Akhilesh told reporters that the results could have been different "had there been a different alliance" in the states. It was an apparent reference to the lack of Congress-SP pre-poll alliance.
Moreover, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the Congress thought it was competent to win elections against the BJP on its own and did not join forces with the other INDIA constituents "due to its greed", according to PTI.
"Had they joined hands with the other parties, this would not have been the result. They were greedy for power. They wanted it all for themselves. That is what has led to this situation in those states," said Vijayana of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).
KC Tyagi of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U) said that Congress "ignored other INDIA parties" as it believed it could win on its own but failed. "The poll results show the defeat of the Congress and the victory of the BJP. The Congress ignored other INDIA parties, but was unable to win on its own," said Tyagi to PTI.