Forging an alliance with other political parties is no easy job for the leadership of any political party. For a party steadily losing ground to its rivals and aware of its hallowed status as a national party being in jeopardy, it can only be tougher. As the newly elected president of the Grand Old Party, which led the country’s independence struggle and ruled independent India for most of the past seven decades, Rahul Gandhi knows how daunting a task lies ahead, given the ground realities.
The Congress, however, is no stranger to coalition-building. Not only was it the first casualty of an alliance that drove a central government out of power, leading to the formation of the Janata Party government in post-Emergency 1977, the Congress has also been a part of quite a few coalition governments since. In all those coalitions, the Congress had been the single largest party, with more parliamentary seats than the sum total of what its alliance partners had. And, barring a few occasions when it supported governments from outside, the prime minister came from the Congress in most of those coalitions. But the scene has changed drastically since the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The Congress is still the single largest party outside the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which technically puts it at the head of the parliamentary Opposition, but its numbers have come down to only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. Even in 1977 and 1989—at the peak of an anti-Congress wave each time—the party had managed to secure 154 and 197 seats, respectively.