Bharat bandh exposes chinks in opposition unity

Several opposition parties refuse to join the Congress-led protests

Congress president Rahul Gandhi with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders during a protest against fuel prices in Delhi | Sanjay Ahlawat Congress president Rahul Gandhi with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders during a protest against fuel prices in Delhi | Sanjay Ahlawat

Even as the Congress claimed that the Bharat bandh, a call for which was given by it to protest against the rising prices of petrol and diesel, was a resounding success, the party was left fending off questions on some important opposition parties keeping distance from the agitation.

Key members of the opposition grouping—Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party—did not participate in the protests in Delhi, where representatives of other regional players were seen protesting against the oil price hike alongside Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

The two parties are learnt to have earlier pledged support to the bandh call. Asked about the absence of the two parties from the protests in Delhi, Randeep Surjewala, AICC Communications Department head, denied that the two regional parties had any differences with the Congress. He said the two parties had communicated that they would hold similar protests in Uttar Pradesh, which is their stronghold, rather than agitating in Delhi.

“Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party had communicated that they were going to undertake similar protests in Uttar Pradesh, including in Varanasi... This is not a fight for individual supremacy or for any political agenda. It is meant to espouse and champion people's rights and give voice to their suffering,” Surjewala said.

Seeking to convey that the Congress was at ease with the decision of some of the opposition parties to hold their own protests, he pointed out that the Left parties had held their separate protests at Jantar Mantar, while the Congress-led agitation was held at Rajghat and Ramlila Maidan.

“As many as 16 representatives of different political parties and leaders took part in the dharna and walked alongside Rahul Gandhiji, Manmohan Singhji and Soniaji. Twenty-one parties supported the bandh call,” Surjewala said.

The Trinamool Congress sent its leader Sukhendu Shekhar Roy as its representative to the dharna in Delhi. However, the party did not hold agitations either in West Bengal or outside. The bandh had no impact in West Bengal, with Trinamool having already made it clear that it would not participate in it.

“Mamata Banerjee felt that she could not give a bandh call as a chief minister. It would go against her Constitutional duties,” said a senior Congress leader. However, Trinamool's decision to stay away from the bandh has to be seen in the context of Mamata's unease with accepting the Congress at the helm of affairs in the opposition grouping.

Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party, after stating that it would not be a part of the bandh, sent its leaders to the protests organised by both the Congress and the Left parties. However, the party later clarified that its participation in the bandh should not be seen as any form of support to the Congress.

“The Congress cannot be the umbrella under which all opposition parties are comfortable. Congress has to shun its big brother and unreasonable attitude towards other parties. No political party in India is subservient to the Congress, and it must bear this fact in mind,” the AAP said in a statement.

The Congress and the AAP are bitter political rivals in Delhi, and the principal opposition party has been blocking a formal entry for Arvind Kejriwal's party in the anti-Modi front.