Mamata Banerjee is leading efforts to form a Third Front of regional parties. She also met Sonia Gandhi in Delhi and invited Congress to join the proposed Grand Alliance. Mamata has mooted the idea of ‘one to one’ contests, implying parties which are strong in respective states should contest against BJP in those seats and other parties of the Front should not put up a candidate and support them wholeheartedly. She is hoping to create a 1977 like situation when big opposition parties contested under common banner of Janata Party to defeat Indira Gandhi.
Theoretically it appears to be a fantastic strategy to beat Modi in 2019. BJP just received 31% vote share and non-BJP parties 69% in 2014. The sheer arithmetic puts odds hugely in favour of such an alliance. However, it is easier said than done. For Congress it’s a difficult decision to take.
On a pan India basis Congress is in contention in 70% of seats
– 46% of the seats have a direct Congress or Congress allies versus BJP or BJP allies contests (Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh),
– 19% of the seats have triangular Congress versus BJP versus Regional Party contests (Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal etc.),
– 16% of the seats have BJP versus Regional Party contests (Uttar Pradesh, Odisha)
– 12% of the seats have Regional parties competing against themselves (Tamil Nadu, Andhra) and
– 6% of the seats have Congress versus regional party contests (Kerala, Telangana)
Congress party won 44 seats in 2014, where one-third of its victories were against regional parties. It finished runner up in 224 seats and on 17% of such seats, regional parties emerged winners.
There are significant issues with Congress joining any such alliance with Federal / Third Front.
- Risk of ceding space to regional party as well as BJP
How will Congress leave out its claim for seats in predominantly regional, Congress versus regional and triangular contests? If congress agrees then it risks ceding its space to regional parties in Odisha, TG, AP, WB etc. Also there is a risk of BJP latching out to this opportunity and become the main opposition in these states. This will create issues for Congress when assembly elections are held in these states in due course. In states like Kerala, if Congress agrees to one to one in alliance with CPM, then BJP get can get entry in the state.
- Regional parties do not bring anything to the table for Congress
The regional parties do not bring any votes to Congress party where it is locked in direct contest with BJP in states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, etc. Neither Trinamool nor TDP nor other parties have any votes there. On the other hand Congress in all probability would be able to transfer section of its votes to Mamata, CBN, KCR, Naveen etc.
Most of the regional parties didn’t even contest outside of their states like AIADMK, DMK, TDP, YSRCP, TRS, BJD to name a few. Only a few parties namely TMC, SP, BSP, JDU and AAP contested outside the states in which they are in power / have influence. However, they received more than 95% of the votes from their stronghold states. Only AAP and BSP have some presence outside their home state as seen in table below.
|Party||Total Contestants||Party Votes||Party Votes from One State||% of Votes from Main States|
|Janata Dal (United)||93||5,992,196||5,662,444||94%|
|Bahujan Samaj Party||503||22,946,182||15,914,019||69%|
|Aam Aadmi Party||432||11,325,635||6,095,949||54%|
- Congress will have to lead this alliance, regional parties may not agree
Who will lead the alliance is a tricky proposition? Congress which is a national party and still no. 2 party of India would not like to be seen playing second fiddle to regional parties. It would do its perception a lot of damage especially when Rahul Gandhi is witnessing an increase in popularity ratings. It will be seen as Congress party under leadership of Rahul Gandhi not having the confidence to beat Narendra Modi. This is why Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary of Congress has asked Mamata to join a Congress led alliance and not vice-a-versa. On the other hand the regional satraps see Rahul as a novice and may not agree to his leadership.
- Some regional parties can desert alliance after results in case of hung Parliament
There is no guarantee these parties won’t flock to BJP after results if it emerges as the single largest party. TDP, TMC, TRS have all been part of NDA previously. To maintain better state and centre relations they might budge.
Congress should prefer state level strategic alliances
Congress party should instead prefer to have state level strategic alliances where it is weak and try to replicate the model it has in Bihar with Lalu’s RJD model. A similar template can be adopted in states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
To conclude, Congress has more to lose than to gain in agreeing to the one to one formula proposed by Mamata. Apart from bringing like-minded anti-Modi, anti-BJP parties parties on a common platform it doesn’t serve much purpose to Congress as it has to fight its battle alone with BJP in most seats where regional parties can’t contribute much. State level alliances will help to maintain its national party character and will serve the party better in the long run.