How I wish I was a fly on the wall at this dinner table. Last week, seated together in Bengaluru, India on the first day of the opposition’s grand meeting, were Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal.
It was quite something to see all three share a platform after all the bitterness and sniping that otherwise marks the Indian National Congress’ relationship with these parties. This is one of the main takeaways of this latest opposition huddle where INDIA or the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance was born.
16 parties from the opposition had met in Patna on June 23. In Bengaluru, this number went up significantly to 26 parties. On the same day as the opposition meeting, the BJP had called a meeting of its alliance, the NDA where the Prime Minister spent considerable time attacking the opposition and their new grouping.
The 2024 general election in India will be alliance vs alliance, the NDA or the national democratic alliance versus INDIA. What a clever name. It will be interesting to see how the BJP frames it’s discourse for the election. Will it tell people not to vote for ‘India’?
A shift in NDA's approach
Countless memes on the internet have made this an entertaining week. What about the BJP’s twitter handle which is “BJP4India”?
Will they change the name? More seriously, the fact that the Prime Minister has attacked the INDIA comparing them to the Indian mujahideen terror group, only reflects that the BJP camp is more than a little rattled.
But what do both alliances have to do to succeed in 2024? Lets talk about the 38 party NDA. The fact that the BJP has suddenly remembered it has allies in the NDA marks a shift in its approach.
The NDA just completed 25 years on paper, but it is well documented how several of its constituents left after 2014, many miffed by the BJP’s arrogant attitude towards smaller parties.
Last year BJP President JP Nadia had angered them further by declaring that regional parties would go into oblivion. It was clear that the BJP felt it did not need the support of anyone else as it expanded. But after two consecutive election wins in the Lok Sabha, reality has hit home.
The party knows it has maxed out in crucial states and may not be able to repeat its performance and therefore could lose some seats. To make up for that, they need to expand in other states and that’s where allies come in. It is not without reason that 8 of the parties who attended the NDA meeting were from Tamil Nadu. If the NDA wants to succeed, the BJP needs to handle allies with more respect and humility.
Congress showing more flexibility
Coming to INDIA, this grouping will have to go beyond its catchy name. At the opposition meeting in Bengaluru, sources say there continued to be differences over how to approach their strategy.
Some leaders like Kejriwal believe talks on seat sharing in various states should be the priority, while others feel they need better coordination on issues first. So a coordination committee is being set up which will work on this, such as chalking out joint programmes and rallies.
The alliance though will have to work out seat sharing issues smartly and quickly. This remains the biggest challenge for the grouping. They will have to do it state by state. The Congress has shown more flexibility this time showing a more accommodating attitude towards other parties.
This was clearly evident in the decision to oppose the Delhi ordinance, a key demand of the AAP. There are still many contradictions that have to be resolved such as the Left’s very open jibes in Bengal at the Mamata-Congress bonhomie.
So far, the INDIA front is being careful not to fall into the trap of raking up polarising issues like the uniform civil code. In their joint statement, they talked about “violence being manufactured against minorities; rising crimes against women, Dalits, Adivasis and Kashmiri Pandits; demanding a fair hearing for all socially, educationally and economically backward communities; and, as a first step, implement the Caste Census. Fighting for democratic values and federalism is clearly another key theme.
2024 just got interesting.