Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with party leaders Sonia Gandhi, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin and others during the Opposition leaders' dinner meeting, in Bengaluru on Monday. Image Credit: ANI

After much discussion the opposition has called its alliance Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). It will be INDIA versus the NDA. Rahul Gandhi is credited with coming up with a the idea to name the new alliance INDIA. Can’t really come up with better branding than INDIA

In India, the Congress party recently won the Karnataka state elections in a closely fought contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Perhaps to underline that win, a large number of parties have come together for a summit in Bengaluru.

Sonia Gandhi, former Congress president, played hostess to the attendees who included Uddhav Thackeray, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, M K Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief, Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief and Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar among others.

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As a senior opposition leader quipped to me, “in spite of investigative agencies like the Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation and Income Tax currently hounding us, the full spectrum of the opposition was present”

I spoke to a cross section of the opposition leadership which was present in the Bengaluru summit and they all made one central point — the need of the hour was to come together and fight the BJP unitedly or else the present Constitutional democracy in India was in jeopardy.

Said a senior leader who had fought Indira Gandhi’s emergency when democratic lights had dimmed in India, “I told her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, and grandson, Rahul Gandhi, that we were living in the era of Indira Gandhi 2.0 and this was not simply a fight about losing or winning a government but, a fight to save Indian democracy.”

How far the opposition has come to that realisation was the presence of Arvind Kejriwal, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief at the meeting.

At loggerheads with the Congress in Delhi and Punjab, he had made the condition that he would only attend if the Congress party made the concession of offering support to him in his battle against an ordinance taking away power from the Delhi government.

After an agonising internal fight, the Congress agreed to support Kejriwal. India’s Left — in the form of Sitaram Yechury — also supped with arch nemesis Banerjee. The realisation that these were not ordinary times to fight pitched battle against each other appeared to have sunk in with an unusually purposeful group of opposition leaders.

Arun Shourie, the former BJP supporting public intellectual, had in an interview to me described the present situation in India to me as a “undeclared emergency”.

The opposition had essentially gathered to answer two questions: Who would be the face of the fight against the third term seeking Modi led BJP and what would be the agenda of that fight?

A small success of the opposition coming together was that the BJP seemed to realise that they also needed to fight with a large contingent of allies — the near defunct National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was slated to have a meeting Tuesday. Earlier the BJP war cry was “Ek akela sab pei bhari” (one alone will win against all the others).

Clearly the professional surveys of voters that the BJP gets done on regular basis is not freighted with good news for the party. Publicly and via tame media the BJP exudes confidence of a ease walkover for an unprecedented third term for Modi.

Rahul Gandhi who as Congress president was quite uncomfortable with senior opposition leaders and wanted the Congress to go alone as a party seemed to have mellowed down considerably. He was chatty with his opposition counterparts and did not insist on a Congress supremacy.


Pan India footprint

The other leaders such as Banerjee had also come to the difficult realisation that the Congress party would have to be the fulcrum of opposition unity because it is the only party which has a pan India footprint.

After successfully sorting its leadership spats in Rajasthan (Sachin Pilot versus Ashok Gehlot) and Karnataka (Siddharamiah versus D K Shivkumar), Malikaarjun Kharge, the Congress President seemed to exude a new confidence. The Congress cadre is now convinced he’s a “lucky president” for the party which till recently was starved of good news.

The opposition plans to go full throttle for “vocal for local” as in the strongest local candidate against the BJP in practically every Lok Sabha seat. The agenda issue a thorny one would be to pitch regional issues and subnationalism against the Hindutva juggernaut of the BJP.

Will it work? Be prepared for a surprise. The Indian voter doesn’t like being taken for granted so it’s silly to call an Indian election till it’s done and dusted.