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As 12 leaders, comprising the 28 parties of the opposition INDIA alliance, met for their first coordination committee meeting this week at Sharad Pawar’s house in Delhi, there was a notable absentee: Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

Mamata’s nephew and MP, Abhishek Banerjee, is a member of the coordination panel, which was set up when the alliance recently met in Mumbai. However, on the day of the Delhi meeting, he was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in an alleged Bengal school jobs scam case.

As a result, he didn’t attend the opposition meeting, but for some reason, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) did not send anyone else.

At the last meeting in Mumbai of the top leaders, it was Mamata Banerjee who, for reasons no one has been able to comprehend until now, opposed the demand for a caste-based census in a joint resolution — even though the alliance had included the same at their previous meeting in Bengaluru.

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She proceeded to have a tantrum about why Left leaders were getting a ‘disproportionate amount of time’ and then decided not to be part of the joint press interaction, leaving Mumbai before the formal proceedings had even ended.

Again, no one from the TMC was on stage with other opposition leaders that day, even though a senior TMC leader was spotted backstage.

What this reflects are the deep divisions and contradictions the INDIA alliance faces. They started well, coming up with a clever name that has clearly gotten under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP’s) skin. We may even see our country’s name changed because of this!

However, the alliance is clearly facing a tougher task on the most important issues, like seat sharing and political rivalries at the state level. That partly explains Mamata’s hostility towards the Left, which is her bitter rival in West Bengal.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress are the other two parties in an uneasy relationship. The Punjab and Delhi units of the Congress are completely opposed to any understanding with the AAP at their state levels.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with party leader Rahul Gandhi, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal during the Opposition leaders' meeting, in Patna

The AAP conundrum

Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been busy campaigning in the three crucial states where assembly polls are due to take place later this year: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. The AAP has even announced candidates for 10 seats in Madhya Pradesh.

The Congress is furious, as it is the main player against the BJP in these states, and the entry of AAP will essentially end up cutting into Congress votes. It also did not help when some Congress leaders announced that they would contest all 7 parliamentary seats in Delhi, upsetting the AAP in the process.

In Chhattisgarh, the AAP has even demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel over corruption allegations.

These contradictions are making talks on the critical issue of seat sharing even more difficult. At the INDIA coordination committee meeting in Delhi, the alliance could not make a serious start on the issue. They have merely agreed to ‘start the process for determining seat sharing’ and that ‘member parties would decide at the earliest.’

Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D Raja said this would include seat sharing talks at the state level for the upcoming assembly polls, along with the Lok Sabha elections due in 2024.

So far, the focus of the opposition had only been on the parliamentary elections. They have decided to hold their first joint political rally in Bhopal next month, which is a clear sign that the state polls are very much on their radar too.

But the big question remains: how will they iron out the clear differences between the AAP and Congress or the TMC and the Congress and Left, for example, for this to work?

Other issues have also added to the INDIA alliance’s headache, such as DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin’s remarks on ‘sanatan dharma,’ which has given the BJP a huge handle and made other opposition allies distance themselves from his comments.

The next few months will be critical in determining the opposition’s road map to take on the BJP. But the internal rifts and challenges show that walking the talk is easier said than done.