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Seat-Sharing Talks? How Congress Should Lead INDIA Alliance

Qurban Ali |
A big responsibility falls on the Grand Old Party, which has signalled a willingness to compromise.
Mumbai: Opposition's Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) leaders pose for a group photograph ahead of their meeting, in Mumbai, Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. (PTI Photo)(

Opposition's Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) leaders pose for a group photograph ahead of their meeting, in Mumbai, Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI 

The general election is just a few months away, but it seems that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in a comfortable position to win unless there is a formidable alliance between non-BJP parties or a tacit understanding among the opposition parties to defeat the BJP in a one-to-one contest. Being the largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress (Congress) has a major role in ensuring the defeat of the BJP.

So what should the Congress party do?

According to credible analysts, it should contest approximately 300 seats alone where it has a direct contest with the BJP, like Karnataka (28 seats), Gujarat (26), Rajasthan (25), Madhya Pradesh (29), Chattisgarh (11), Andhra Pradesh (25), Telangana (17), Assam (14), Odisha (21), Haryana (10), Uttarakhand (5), Himachal (4), Northeast (11), Union Territories (12)—total 238 seats.

The Congress party should form an alliance with NCP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and contest at least 22 seats out of 48. In Bihar, it should have an alliance with the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Left parties to contest five seats, and with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand contest seven seats. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress party should have an alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other partners to contest ten seats, and in Kerala (16 with the United Democratic Front)—44 seats in total.

In Uttar Pradesh, it should have an alliance or seat sharing with the Samajwadi Party plus the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and contest only five seats, while the Samajwadi Party should contest 65 and the RLD five, and other parties five, respectively. That means a total of five seats for the Congress party.

In West Bengal, it should not contest more than five seats and leave the remaining 37 seats to Mamta’s TMC—five seats for the Congress party.

In Punjab (13 seats) and Delhi (seven), it should have an alliance with AAP and contest six seats in Punjab and two in Delhi, respectively.

In Jammu and Kashmir (six seats), the Congress party should have an alliance with the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, contesting two seats each, respectively.

All in all, the Congress should contest and focus on 305-310 Lok Sabha seats, leaving 240 seats for like-minded friendly parties in other states.

With this strategy to ensure the non-division of opposition votes, the Congress party can win at least 140-150 Lok Sabha seats, and another 120-130 seats can go to like-minded opposition parties, putting them in a position to form a coalition government at the Centre.

According to a 7 January report published in The Indian Express, the Congress leadership has told its state units that the party would focus on 255 seats in the coming Lok Sabha polls, “signalling a readiness to contest in fewer seats than in the 2019 polls amid the [INDIA] bloc’s pulls and pressures”.

In a previous report published on 6 January, The Indian Express reported that the party has also announced that “seat-sharing talks with partners in the INDIA grouping would begin immediately”.

Further, the report said that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge met members of the party’s five-member national alliance committee, which had held extensive discussions with state units over the previous few days. The committee submitted its report to the leadership and was given the go-ahead to start talks with constituents of the INDIA bloc.

State leaders read it as an indication that the party was prepared to contest in fewer seats this time to accommodate parties of the INDIA alliance.

It makes sense.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress contested 421 seats and won only 52. It was part of alliances in a handful of states—with the RJD in Bihar, the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, the JMM in Jharkhand, and the DMK in Tamil Nadu. Accordingly, it had contested only nine out of the 40 seats in Bihar, seven of the 14 seats in Jharkhand, 21 of the 28 seats in Karnataka, 25 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, and nine of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu. In Uttar Pradesh, it contested in 70 of the 80 seats.

The Congress knows that seat-sharing will be fraught with difficulties in some states, especially Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

While the Aam Aadmi Party has signalled it was willing to forge a seat-sharing pact with the Congress in Punjab and Delhi, in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party had signalled it would contest 65 seats, leaving 15 for the Congress, the RLD and others.

The party has decided to hold talks with INDIA alliance parties on a state-to-state basis. In other words, the Congress would hold talks with the AAP, for instance, on seat sharing in Delhi and Punjab separately, as well as states like Gujarat and Haryana, where the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrwial-led party claims to have some influence.

The same will apply to the Left and other parties, which would want to contest in more than one state under the banner of the INDIA alliance.

Senior Congress leader Mukul Wasnik, the convenor of the alliance committee, said after the meeting at Kharge’s residence, “Our whole intention is to ensure that the INDIA alliance gets a majority and forms the government. We will talk to various parties of the alliance with that objective in mind. Our objective is to ensure that the INDIA alliance forms the government at the Centre.”

According to party sources, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge told leaders to bury their differences, refrain from making remarks about each other, and [not] take internal party matters to the media. Sources said the party asked the state units to begin the candidate selection process and provide the first list at the earliest.

The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.

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