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With Lok Sabha polls looming, Congress has its work cut out for it in forming alliances; BJP is far ahead in the game

The Congress' goal to build a 'Grand Alliance' countrywide to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be getting farther from its reach the closer we get to the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

The latest blow it has been dealt comes from West Bengal, where the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) announced its first list of 25 candidates while it was in seat-sharing talks with the Congress. A humiliated Congress then called off all discussions with the Left, saying the party will contest the polls alone in Bengal and won't compromise on its dignity.

 With Lok Sabha polls looming, Congress has its work cut out for it in forming alliances; BJP is far ahead in the game

File image of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. PTI

The situation is akin to the grand old party being left out of what had appeared to be the most obvious alliance in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most important electoral state with 80 Lok Sabha seats. Here, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party have come together to take on the BJP — BSP from 38 seats and Samajwadi Party from 37. They also have the support of Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has been given three seats.

In what pollsters consider a consolation prize, the parties left the Raebareli and Amethi seats for the Congress, which was forced to contest the polls in Uttar Pradesh solo after the snub from two former chief ministers (unless we count the tie-up with the Krishna Patel-led Apna Dal faction.

Mayawati has also made it clear that her BSP will not ally with the Congress in any other state for the Lok Sabha election.

It must be noted that after the December 2018 Assembly elections, both Mayawati and Yadav had lent support to the Congress to form the governments in Madhya Pradesh Rajasthan to "keep the BJP out".

The Congress' seat-sharing talks have run into a hurdle even in Bihar, where it was once part of the ruling "Mahagathbandhan" that fell apart after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) reunited with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Things are back to square one in Bihar as Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) now wants the Congress to cut back on its seats share in the alliance so smaller, regional allies can be allotted a larger chunk for the 40-member Bihar Assembly.

The parties were expected to announce their numbers on Sunday, but the Congress now is believed to have till Tuesday to decide whether it is willing to agree to just nine seats as against 11. If RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav's tweet from 16 March, hinting at a certain party's "arrogance", is any indication, then the Congress may be at risk of losing support in Bihar, as well.

In Delhi, the Congress ruled out forming an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), reportedly because it wanted a higher share of seats. AAP is believed to have offered to join hands in Punjab and Haryana, as well, but this combine now seems unlikely.

Moreover, after its pre-poll alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Telangana failed to make a mark, the Congress decided to contest both the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls alone in Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP, on the other hand, is far ahead in the alliance game, even convincing the Asom Gana Parishad to fight the Lok Sabha election with it, two months after it severed ties with the saffron party over the contentious citizenship bill. It has successfully tied up with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu; JD(U) and Lok Janshakti Party in Bihar; Apna Dal in Uttar Pradesh; Shiv Sena in Maharashtra; and the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and Haryana (most of which are old members of the NDA).

Besides these larger parties, BJP has the support of several regional units and Independents. Even in the North East, the saffron front has managed to retain its grip on the states and save face, despite the widespread agitations against the proposed citizenship bill. Here, too, the Congress failed to take advantage of the electoral opportunity it had.

With the first phase of the Lok Sabha election less than a month away, the Congress has its work cut out for it. The entire country is watching as the party's hope of stitching together a "Mahagathbandhan" ahead of the polls is slipping from its grip, making pollsters question its chances after its victories in three states in the Assembly elections in December.

The Congress may have the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, DMK in Tamil Nadu, the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra (though with a few contentious seats) and the United Democratic Front in Kerala, and it has reached out to the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir. But the Grand Old Party is in a tough spot, given how crucial it is to have the support of regional influences to win in states.

Rahul Gandhi's Rafale and "chowkidar chor hai" narrative may fall on deaf ears unless the party gets its act together and comes up with better strategies and negotiation tactics to thwart the BJP's bid for another term.

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 15:44:14 IST

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