So here we are, just a few months away from the next general election in India and the opposition alliance has still not made much head way on the all important issue of seat sharing.
This, along with several other issues, threaten to deepen the fault lines in the opposition camp. It doesn’t bode well that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said last Saturday that the INDIA alliance would meet in “10 to 15 days” to make decisions about key posts.
Back in August 2023, when the opposition alliance leaders met in Mumbai, sources say several parties pushed for seat sharing agreements to be finalised at the earliest.
Some were looking at a deadline of October end. But the Congress then went into assembly election mode and ignored it’s allies for three months. The stinging state election defeats in the Hindi heartland should have added more urgency to the exercise, but it has not.
INDIA leaders met in mid December and agreed that seat sharing needed to be finalised “as early as possible”. The Congress has only just started seat sharing talks with the SP, AAP, and the RJD.
The only real forward movement has come in Maharashtra where reports suggest that the seat sharing has been planned out in detail among the MVA allies — the Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP. Importantly they are also including Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi party in the Maha Vikas Aghadi.
Time to catch up
The JD (U) meanwhile is unhappy. They have been pushing to get their leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made the convener of the INDIA bloc. The fact that this decision has been kicked down the road by the Congress has irked them.
Speaking to the media, senior JD (U) leader and chief national spokesperson, KC Tyagi said “the way the Congress chief responded to media questions on Saturday on this (convener question) did not go down well with us. We are running out of time and ideas. We still have time to catch up. But it is Congress that has to show urgency to see a vibrant INDIA bloc”.
The trickiest states for seat sharing, apart from Bihar, will be Delhi, West Bengal, and Punjab. Mamata has made it clear she will not give the Congress more than 2 seats, which prompted state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury to hit back and say the Congress would not go begging for seats.
Temple issue plays out
What has also upset some opposition parties is the announcement of Rahul Gandhi’s second Bharat Jodo Yatra, from Manipur to Mumbai.
In his comments to ‘The Indian Express’, KC Tyagi said it should have been a joint Yatra. “We welcome their yatra but it was not a good time to start it. INDIA is still in a confused state. What if Lok Sabha polls are announced soon after the Ram Temple opening? We still do not have clarity on seat-sharing, agenda, and leadership roles. Congress should show its large-heartedness, shedding its big-brotherly attitude”, said Tyagi.
And while the Congress has invited allies to join the Yatra, the big question is whether Mamata or Akhilesh would actually go.
The other issue that is becoming tricky for the opposition is the Ram temple inauguration. The Congress has stuck its neck out and finally said no to the invitation after being internally divided on the issue. The mega event is an out and out political show for the BJP and attending it means playing into that narrative.
Not attending it risks upsetting core Hindu voters. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor summed it up: “Individuals have been invited, let individuals decide if they wish to go. I do not think of the temple as a political stage. ... Not going to a political event doesn’t make you an anti-Hindu ... Putting the Congress leadership in a box and saying that if you go that means you are playing into the BJP’s hands. If you don’t go that means you are anti-Hindu is nonsense. Let the individuals make a reasonable choice”.
It will be interesting to see how the temple as an issue plays out among voters.
The opposition is also not prepared with crafting a common agenda or narrative. Some reports say there won’t be a common manifesto either. There is intense speculation that the elections may be announced soon after the temple inauguration on Jan. 22, which makes the opposition camp even more ill prepared.
If the INDIA alliance has any chance in the polls, they need to get their act together now.