In a significant step towards strengthening the INDIA alliance, opposition parties have decided to initiate seat-sharing talks as soon as possible. The 28-party alliance will establish committees comprising members from the concerned parties in all States where seat sharing is a crucial issue for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. INDIA has also decided to hold public rallies collectively throughout the country, addressing the concerns of the public. The decisions came in the third meeting of the grand opposition alliance, which took place in Mumbai on September 1, where the alliance resolved to contest the elections “to the greatest extent possible”.
The anticipation surrounding the third meeting of the INDIA alliance was palpable nationwide. It was widely expected that the meeting would conclude with the finalisation of the logo and the appointment of the convenor. However, both matters were deferred due to differences of opinion among the leaders. Sixty-three delegates from 28 parties representing various regions of the country attended the meeting.
A senior leader informed Frontline that some leaders opposed the idea of a new logo, as they already had their own party symbols, fearing it might confuse voters. Consequently, the logo proposal was set aside. Regarding the convenor’s position, names like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee were under discussion. Instead of a single individual, the alliance opted for a 14-member coordination committee, responsible for various tasks, including the formation of statewide committees, finalising meeting venues, planning proposed public rallies, and other important decisions.
Finding common ground
During the meeting, a three-point resolution was adopted, stating that the alliance would strive to contest the elections collectively to the fullest extent possible and expedite seat-sharing talks. “Elections could be announced at any time, as the central government has called for a special session of parliament. Therefore, we must expedite these talks,” remarked Nitish Kumar after the meeting.
The other two points of the resolution concern organising public rallies and devising media and social media strategies for the alliance. Another senior leader told Frontline that, instead of a logo, all participating parties would adopt a common colour and letter theme for posters, banners, and political gatherings across the country. This was intended to foster a sense of unity among parties and the public.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hailed the Mumbai session as productive. He criticised the BJP government for alleged financial irregularities involving industrialist Gautam Adani, emphasising the need for an investigation. Rahul said, “The G20 summit will be held in India. It is a matter of India’s prestige that the government initiates an investigation into this (Adani) issue.” International media has raised concerns over the issue, and if the Modi government does not act, it will convey the message that they are protecting him, Rahul Gandhi added. Rahul also claimed that during his recent visit to Ladakh, local residents informed him of deception by the Modi government regarding Chinese incursions, which he deemed a matter of national security.
All the leaders took aim at the Modi government for alleged misuse of investigative agencies. RJD chief Lalu Yadav said, “In the past, kings used brute force to oppress people. Today, Modi is attempting to control through the ED and CBI. However, we will not be intimidated. We will stand united and defeat Modi.” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal characterised the INDIA alliance as a coalition representing 1.4 billion Indians.
He asserted, “We have come together to make the 21st century India’s century. The Modi government has become corrupt and arrogant. They believe they are above everyone else, and when someone starts thinking that way, their downfall is inevitable.” Kejriwal also refuted reports of divisions within the alliance, particularly amidst the ongoing feud between the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab and Delhi. He said, “Let me be clear. Reports of differences are untrue. Everyone at the meeting was enthusiastic and flexible on all matters.”
It was decided to establish a separate committee for media and social media strategies. “Judega Bharat Jeetega India” will serve as the alliance’s slogan, to be translated into all State languages. The social media team will include representatives from each party, responsible for designing state-specific campaign strategies.
Sources indicated that the overarching theme of the campaign would focus on inflation, unemployment, violence against marginalised communities, and the perceived abuse of power within the BJP-led government. Campaigns will be tailored to each State’s local flavour. A leader involved in the discussions expressed hope that these teams would be formed by the end of September 2023.
The INDIA team has decided to emphasise people’s issues such as inflation and unemployment over ideological matters. “Our alliance will provide solutions to problems like inflation and unemployment. We will offer a clear roadmap and present our alternative vision soon,’ said CPM national general secretary Sitaram Yechury. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin criticised the Modi government for allegedly undermining India’s federal structure.
Stalin stated, “Modi’s government has little regard for either Parliament or the Courts. The Election Commission has become subservient to this regime. The BJP has stripped premier agencies such as the E.D., C.B.I., and I.T. of their independence, turning them into their enforcement arm, which intimidates opposition at the behest of their political masters (BJP).” He clarified that the battle was not personal against Narendra Modi, saying, “Our intention is not to unseat an individual named Narendra Modi. We have no hatred or grudge against any individual.”
The Mumbai meeting held special significance as the BJP successfully managed to fracture the strong regional parties Shiv Sena and NCP of Maharashtra in the past year. Therefore, for Uddhav Thackeray (Sena) and Sharad Pawar (NCP), the meeting was crucial for boosting the morale of party workers.
Pawar, in his address, asserted that those in power had lost their sense of right and wrong. He said, “They were different when they were in opposition, but now they behave differently. They are abusing the power they hold. That’s why we will do everything possible to prevent the misuse of power.”
As doubts about the coordination among the regional leaders persisted, raised by BJP leaders and some political observers, INDIA leaders seemed to have made a concerted effort to portray unity. Bilateral meetings between Uddhav Thackeray and Mamata Banerjee, Stalin and Pawar, Rahul Gandhi and Uddhav Thackeray, and Nitish Kumar and Uddhav Thackeray seemed to be part of this strategy. The BJP had consistently attacked the INDIA alliance, raising concerns about potential instability. The image of camaraderie among leaders was a well-considered response to these criticisms.