In the midst of efforts to bring opposition parties together in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, the faultlines within the anti-BJP grouping have become evident in the Congress' dilemma over the Centre's ordinance that seeks to neutralise the Supreme Court's order which gave control of the services to the Delhi government.
Congress leaders have welcomed the Supreme Court's May 11 judgment which made it clear that the Delhi government had the powers to legislate and decide on transfer and posting of officers in the capital, except for the areas of land, law and order and police.
However, the party has not been that unambiguous when it comes to the Aam Aadmi Party seeking to make it a national issue and reaching out to various political parties for their support in ensuring that the ordinance does not get approved in the Rajya Sabha.
The party has said that it would take a decision on the issue of the ordinance after consulting its state units and other like-minded parties. The party's cautious rope walk was evident in the tweet posted by K.C. Venugopal, AICC General Secretary in charge of Organisation. He wrote that the Congress believes in the Rule of Law, which was a reference to the party's agreement with the Supreme Court order. He also said, “...at the same time (the party) does not condone unnecessary confrontation, political witch-hunt and campaigns based on lies against political opponents by any political party.” This has been interpreted as the Congress' critique of both the BJP-ruled Centre and the AAP government in Delhi.
An important issue discussed within the party as it seeks to forge a coalition of opposition parties before the Lok Sabha elections is the clash of interests that is likely to happen in certain states with other parties that are also a part of the opposition space. For example, in Delhi and Punjab, the state unit of the Congress views the AAP as an adversary with which it cannot make any compromises. The reaction of Congress leaders from Delhi and Punjab to the ordinance issue have brought to the fore the inherent contradictions in the efforts to bring the opposition parties together.
Senior Punjab Congress leader Pratap Singh Bajwa and prominent Delhi leader Ajay Maken are among the voices that have strongly urged the central leadership of the party against making any move that amounts to helping the AAP. While the Congress was unseated by the AAP in Punjab, in Delhi, its entire support base has been taken over by the relative newbie. Leaders of the local units in these two states view the AAP as a party that has grown at its cost and feel that making any concessions to it would only harm the Congress further.
The central leadership through its stance on the ordinance issue thus far has appeared to be sensitive to the concerns of the state units of the party. Also, it has also tried to convey the message that its support cannot be taken for granted, and the assertiveness has to be viewed in the backdrop of its victory in the Assembly elections in Karnataka. The Congress' stand would be crucial, given its numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
However, as efforts to bring the opposition parties on a common platform intensify, the Congress could be expected to ultimately come around to opposing the ordinance in the Rajya Sabha. A key element of the Congress' attacks on the Narendra Modi government is that it has worked in a dictatorial manner, shown lack of regard for the Rule of Law and has violated the norms of federalism.
A failure to do so would run counter to the sense of urgency shown by the central leadership in reaching out to opposition parties and also having stated more than once that the party is ready to make sacrifices for the sake of opposition unity.