New Delhi: While the Congress is leaving no stone unturned to bring the anti-BJP parties under one roof against the NDA Government at the Centre, voices of dissent seem to be echoing from within which may hurt its ambitions ahead of the Assembly elections in several states and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The discordant voices have also provided enough fodder to the BJP to attack the Grand Old Party, with the former alleging that the latter disrespects its senior leaders. It began with senior party leader Digvijaya Singh saying that he refrains from campaigning and addressing rallies as doing so reduces his party’s votes. “I have a single task. No campaigning, no speeches. My speeches dent Congress votes, so I don’t go,” he said.

Significantly, Singh, the two-time chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, has been conspicuous with his absence in the programmes and rallies which party president Rahul Gandhi has been addressing in the poll-bound states over the last few weeks. State Congress chief Kamal Nath parried questions on Singh by saying, “I am not aware of the context in which he is stating this.”

BJP was quick to take a dig at the Congress over Singh’s comments, with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan saying that the party should not treat one of its leaders in this manner. “We (BJP) have not given him (Singh) this pain. It was given by the Congress itself.  His posters are not being put up, he is not being given prominence,” Chouhan said. “I never imagined the Congress will treat one of its leaders in this manner. Congressmen should, at least, respect their leader,” the Chief Minister added.

 On Thursday, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is considered one of the pillars of the current party leadership, left the Congress red-faced by saying that the number of Hindu candidates inviting him to campaign for them has reduced drastically in the last four years as they are “afraid” that it may adversely impact Hindu votes.  “Since the days of the Youth Congress, I have been campaigning across the country from Andaman and Nicobar to Lakshadweep. Around 95 per cent of those who used to call me were Hindu brothers and leaders, and just 5 per cent were Muslim brothers,” said Azad while addressing the alumni of Aligarh Muslim University in Lucknow.

“But in the last four years, I have observed that the figure of 95 has dropped to just 20 per cent. This means that there is something wrong… Aaj darta hai admi bulane se… iska voter pe kya asar hoga… (Today people are afraid to call me… wondering what effect would I have on the voter),” he added.

Criticising him for his remarks, the BJP accused the Congress of “demeaning and demoralising” Hindus and termed Azad’s comments as an “abuse”. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the simple reason behind fewer people calling Azad for campaigning is the falling stock of the Congress. For this, Azad has invented the Hindu-Muslim angle, he added. “These are not ordinary words. It is an abuse for the country’s secular fabric and Hindus. It is yet another attempt by the Congress to demean and demoralise Hindus,” Patra told reporters.

Next to join the list of Congress leaders expressing their apparent dissension with the party was Karnataka leader DK Shivakumar who admitted that the party committed a “major blunder” by recommending religious minority status for the Lingayat community in the run-up to the May 12 Assembly elections.

Seeking pardon from people, he said politics in the name of religion was unacceptable. The previous Siddaramaiah government’s gamble to play the Lingayat card with a religious minority tag turned out to be a costly misadventure electorally, leaving Congress poorer in terms of the number of assembly seats.

The open admission has given a potential weapon to the Opposition BJP in Karnataka to attack the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Shivakumar’s statement has created a rift within Congress as another party heavyweight and former minister, MB Patil, who was at the forefront of recommending religious status for the Lingayats, said he would raise the matter on the party forum.

Ahead of the assembly polls, then Congress government had notified the Lingayats and VeerashaivaLingayats as a religious minority but said it would come into effect after the Central government’s approval to the recommendation on the issue. The move backfired, exemplified by the defeat of three prominent ministers; Vinay Kulkarni, Dr Sharanprakash Patil and Basavaraj Rayareddi.

Meanwhile, the dissent expressed by the three key party leaders may dent the Congress’ attempts to stitch together a ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) against the NDA ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the upcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram.

The BJP and the Congress will go head-on in Madhya Pradesh (230 seats), Rajasthan (200) and Chhattisgarh (90), where the saffron party is in power while in Telangana (119), the ruling TRS is seeking a second term. In Mizoram, the Congress is the ruling party. The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for three consecutive terms while in Rajasthan, power alternates between the two parties every election.