While politicians in the U.S. fuss and fret over whether there should be a third political party, India is preparing for a grand electoral fight between two alliances, one consisting of 26 parties and the other 38.
One month after the commencement of discussions on forming a united front against the BJP, the multi-party coalition has christened itself as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or INDIA. This nomenclature, decided upon during the Opposition conclave, reflects a noteworthy and politically significant collaboration between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress.
Additionally, the coalition announced that its next meeting will be held in Mumbai, tentatively scheduled for the latter half of August, with the Shiv Sena (UBT) acting as the host. Despite being a relatively recent entrant to the anti-BJP sphere, the Shiv Sena has faced considerable pressure from the BJP in Maharashtra. The Mumbai gathering may witness the Opposition parties’ first joint rally, as well as a decision regarding the appointment of an alliance convenor.
The Bengaluru meeting brought together representatives from 26 parties, a substantial increase from the 16 parties that convened in Patna on June 23. One of the significant outcomes of this meeting was the establishment of an 11-member coordination committee, comprising major parties, as well as a ‘secretariat’ in Delhi. The secretariat’s primary roles will involve campaign management and coordination of various sub-committees, each tasked with addressing specific issues.
The suggestion to name the alliance INDIA initially came from senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Before finalizing the name, Rahul sought the approval of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee through K C Venugopal, the Congress general secretary (Organisation). Mamata readily agreed to the name but proposed that the letter ‘N’ should represent “new” instead of “national.” Subsequently, there was informal deliberation on whether the letter ‘D’ should stand for democratic or developmental. After a late-night discussion, it was decided that Mamata would propose the name at the meeting.
During the meeting, some leaders, including Nitish Kumar, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, and G Devarajan, expressed reservations about naming the alliance INDIA. However, Rahul Gandhi fervently supported the name, arguing that it would enable the Opposition to create an “INDIA vs. NDA” narrative, implying that Narendra Modi and the BJP were “against INDIA,” while all those opposing the BJP were “INDIA.” Alternative names like People’s Alliance for India and Progressive People’s Alliance were suggested, with Mehbooba Mufti proposing ‘Bharat Jodo Alliance’ in reference to Rahul’s successful Bharat Jodo Yatra.
The alliance’s coordination between Mamata Banerjee and the Congress did not sit well with the Left parties. Mamata was reportedly upset with Yechury’s remarks that “secular parties,” including the Left and Congress, would take on both the BJP and the TMC in Bengal. Amidst these discussions, the central theme emerged that the battle was not merely between political factions, but for the soul of the country, an idea encapsulated by the alliance’s name, Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).
It was emphasized that the battle for INDIA was against the NDA and its ideology, which seeks to stifle and subjugate the voice of the nation. Rahul Gandhi underscored that the parties would strategize and prepare an action plan in Mumbai to take their fight to the people.
She added: “All the focus, all the publicity, all the campaigning, all the programmes will be under the banner of INDIA. If anybody can challenge this, catch us if you can.”
Rahul said the battle is no longer between two political formations or Opposition and the BJP, but for the voice of the country which is being “silenced and crushed”. “The battle is for the idea of India. That is why we came up with this name… the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. That means INDIA. The battle is between the NDA and INDIA, their ideology and INDIA. And you know who wins when somebody stands against India.”
As of now, the composition of the coordination committee and sub-committees has not been revealed. However, these panels will play crucial roles in drafting a common program and communication points for the 2024 general elections, as well as devising a joint program comprising rallies, conventions, and agitations to rally support for the alliance’s objectives.
Ironically, it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will have ruled for ten years by the 2024 parliamentary elections, that is going to depend on the alliance with 38 parties. This notwithstanding the fact that Modi has been known to say that he alone is formidable enough for the entire opposition, the implication being that he does not need the support of other parties.
However, the reality of 26 opposition parties cobbled into an alliance by the Indian National Congress Party appears to have made the prime minister sit up and take notice. The opposition alliance came together in Bengaluru under the somewhat labored acronym INDIA or Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. The acronym may have the feel of an unimaginative political hack’s slapdash creation, as a challenge to Modi and his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it seems to pack considerable punch.
In a measure of that potential threat the BJP also quickly called a meeting of its own 38-party alliance in New Delhi even while some of its constituents mock the acronym INDIA.
That 64 political parties will slug it out for the votes of electorate of 600 million plus people in 2024 may seem extraordinary to an American watcher but it is quite routine in India, where according to its Election Commission there are 6 national parties, 54 state parties, and 2,597 unrecognized parties.
Although within INDIA there are parties that are antagonistic to one another, this coming together was explained by Congress Party president Mallikarjun Kharge saying, “We are setting aside our political differences to save democracy.” At a news conference to announce the alliance various leaders gave versions of how they believe the BJP and Modi were stifling opposition voices and violating the letter and spirit of the country’s constitution.
INDIA faces an uphill battle taking on the NDA with the BJP controlling more than 300 seats in the 543-member parliament. Despite mounting attacks on him by the opposition Modi remains highly popular. His party acolytes frequently boast that the next election is as good as won by them and there may not be any prospect for the opposition even in 2029.
However, there is serious belief that if INDIA manages to field one-on-one candidates against the NDA rivals across the country, they could defeat them considering there is a great deal of disquiet across the country over several existential issues such as rampaging inflation and high unemployment along with a certain amount of communal toxicity whipped up through social media.
Despite its latest defeat in the Karnataka state elections, the BJP rules in 15 out of 28 states and eight federally administered territories either on its own or with coalitions. It has deep coffers with a reported cash reserves of 19.17 billion rupees or over $233 million, which by the U.S. standards is rather minuscule but makes it the country’s richest party.
The acronym INDIA is politically fraught. BJP leaders are known to make a distinction between India and Bharat, preferring the latter to the former, on the grounds that Bharat is the historical entity rooted into hearts and minds of its people unlike India which is a western construct used by the political elites. There are already barbs doing the rounds of social media on that distinction. On the opposition’s side, they are already raising questions such as “Can the BJP take on INDIA?”
It is still early days to determine whether INDIA will shake up NDA but if the BJP’s response is any indication, they want to take no chances. There is every indication that 2024 will be an intensely fought elections where India’s core cultural and political identity will be a top issue at the front and center apart from the many existential crises.
They decided to form an 11-member coordination committee, when they meet next in Mumbai, to formulate the opposition’s strategy to stop the Modi juggernaut from securing third consecutive Lok Sabha victory in 2024.
The front released a declaration of a “Samuhik Sankalp” — joint resolution — for implementation of the caste census among other programmes, and mentioning Manipur violence, role of governors and LGs, and demonetisation.
PM candidate and Gandhis
While Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said his party is not interested in having a PM candidate, Sonia Gandhi’s name was suggested as the chairperson of INDIA, with Bihar CM as its convener. Rahul said, “The idea of India is under attack today. The idea of an inclusive India is being attacked by the ideology of the BJP.”