Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who continues to head the Congress Parliamentary Party after her son Rahul was made the party chief, expressed her intent on Thursday to pursue alliances with “like-minded parties” with a view to defeating the BJP in the next Lok Sabha election. This is likely to be received positively by prospective allies of the Congress.
Top leaders of other secular parties were somewhat uneasy with dealing with Mr Gandhi, given his relative lack of experience and stature in the arena of politics compared with their own. Some time ago, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee had indicated that she would be happy if it was Mrs Gandhi who took the initiative in anti-BJP coalition-making. Mrs Gandhi had shown her mettle in this regard in 2004 when she shed her natural aloofness to energetically build bridges with other parties, and was widely admired for her effort. A striking image of that time was when she walked over to the residence of Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Ram Vilas Paswan, who was bowled over by that gesture.
This time round, however, the Congress is deemed a weaker party with only 44 Lok Sabha wins in the last election, and Mrs Gandhi’s job is likely to be tougher. The gap between the Congress and the next party in the UPA coalition, Ms Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, is not so significant in political terms. Of course, this can change if the Congress wins some of the north-eastern states and retains Karnataka between now and April-May. Even so, negotiating with allies is never easy.