INDIA coalition’s Mumbai meet reiterated rhetorics but showed no roadmap

Although the INDIA coalition's two-day-long Mumbai meeting concluded with much fanfare, no concrete roadmap for the parties emerged from it.

INDIA coalition's meeting in Mumbai

Photo source: Shiv Sena/Facebook

The INDIA coalition—an umbrella alliance of India’s major opposition parties—concluded its two-day discussion in Mumbai on Friday, September 1st, and tried to portray a united picture against the federally ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Though the INDIA coalition’s meeting in Mumbai released a joint statement, reiterating the commitment to jointly contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections against the BJP, the meeting failed to bring any new perspective.

“We, the INDIA parties, hereby resolve to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections together as far as possible”, the statement read. Seat-sharing arrangements in different states will be initiated immediately and concluded at the earliest in a collaborative spirit of give-and-take, the statement said.

The INDIA coalition’s meeting also resolved to organise public rallies all over India on “issues of public concern and importance”. However, whether such rallies will be possible in states like Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh or West Bengal, where two or more entities of the INDIA coalition share enmity, is yet to be seen.

“We, the INDIA parties, hereby resolve to coordinate our respective communications and media strategies and campaigns with the theme Judega Bharat, Jiteega India in different languages”, the statement added highlighting the theme. 

All parties didn’t agree on a common logo for the INDIA coalition as they feared it would cannibalise their respective election symbols and confuse the voters.

The major attendees at the INDIA coalition’s meeting in Mumbai include:

  1. Indian National Congress (INC) chief Mallikarjun Kharge, former INC chiefs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi
  2. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar
  3. Shiv Sena (UBT) president Uddhav Thackeray
  4. All-India Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay
  5. Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] supremo and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
  6. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal
  7. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav
  8. Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin
  9. National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah
  10. People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti
  11. Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary D Raja
  12. CPI (Marxist) [CPI(M)] general secretary Sitaram Yechury
  13. CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation [CPI(M-L) Liberation] leader Dipankar Bhattacharya
  14. Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav
  15. Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Chaudhary

INDIA coalition leaders slam the Modi government

Opposition leaders slammed the Modi government’s move to set up a committee to study the feasibility of one-nation, one-election, alleging it would pose a threat to the federal structure of the country. 

CPI’s Raja said that Modi always talks about India being the mother of democracy and then how can the government take a unilateral decision without discussing it with other political parties. 

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut said India is already one and no one is questioning that. “We demand fair election, not ‘one nation one election’. This move of ‘one nation one election’ is being brought to divert the attention from our demand for a fair election”, Raut said.

Raut said the unveiling of the coalition logo has been cancelled for Friday. “Logo is a very important part of the alliance. It is going to be discussed in our meeting but will not be unveiled today”, he told the press.

During informal talks over dinner on Thursday night, the leaders stressed the urgency to finalise seat sharing and come out with a joint agenda in a few weeks.

INC leader Kharge has asked leaders of various parties to give one name from their respective parties for being part of the coordination committee.

While Bandopadhyay reportedly told the attendees at the informal dinner meeting that the INDIA coalition should come out with its manifesto by October 2nd, her Delhi counterpart Kejriwal called for finalising seat sharing among parties for the Lok Sabha polls by the end of next month.

Unsettled issues

Although the INDIA coalition members agreed to discuss the issue of seat sharing at the earliest to avoid last-moment hiccups before the polls, there is no finalisation of any roadmap on how it will be done and how the disputes between the parties at state levels be settled.

Parties like the AAP, CPI, CPI(M), INC and TMC are expected to lock horns over seat-sharing arrangements in crucial states like Delhi, Kerala, Punjab and West Bengal, where these parties have bitter feuds. Moreover, the INDIA coalition members failed to reach any consensus so far on not contesting against each other in any of the Lok Sabha seats.

While the parties have expressed their apprehensions on the recent exposure of alleged scams in which the Adani Enterprises and Vedanta Group, reportedly closely attached to Modi’s BJP, are found involved, they have not released any plan on how they will use the issues or build any mass movements against the government.

Even though the parties agreed to organise mass rallies in different places against the BJP-led Union government’s policies and raise the issues concerning the people, there are practical issues in organising such rallies in different states.

The TMC in West Bengal, for example, doesn’t allow the opponents of Bandopadhyay to organise mass movements that target the BJP at the Union. Though the CPI(M)-led Left Front is in alliance with the INC in West Bengal, the scenario is different in Kerala.

It’s quite impossible for Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the CPI(M) to organise joint rallies with the INC, which is its principal opposition party in the state where the BJP isn’t a factor.

In Punjab too, the ruling AAP can’t organise a public rally with the INC, which is its principal opponent. In Delhi, the AAP and the INC can’t go along in their present forms due to their bitter relationship.

The special session of the Parliament

In an apparent bid to outmanoeuvre the Opposition allying against it, the BJP has called for a special session of the Parliament. The session will start soon after the end of the G20 Summit in New Delhi and apparently, its agenda is kept secret.

Earlier, whenever the Modi government stunned the Opposition, it used surprise elements. Now, it’s assumed by the INDIA coalition members that either the Modi government will attempt to push the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) agenda or present a statehood proposal for the disputed Jammu & Kashmir, which was trifurcated in August 2019.

Shiv Sena’s (UBT) member of the Parliament (MP) Priyanka Chaturvedi criticised the Modi government’s decision to call a special session of the Parliament on an undisclosed agenda. She expressed apprehensions that the government try to use the occasion to divert the people’s attention using a gimmick.

“Today, the country is facing farmers’ issues, rising unemployment, China’s aggression… If the special session will address all these issues then it’s welcomed. If it will be used to divert attention from these issues, then it shows that the BJP is nervous”, Chaturvedi said.

I want to ask them (the Modi government) as to when will a committee be formed on inflation, corruption, rising unemployment, women’s reservation”, she asked.

What’s going to happen?

The Opposition parties published a list of media coordinators and released a few short statements at the end of the INDIA coalition meeting, which shows that the teething issues of the alliance aren’t resolved yet and inner contradictions continue to take the high seat despite the facade of unity displayed during the photo ops. 

Bandopadhyay and SP chief Yadav left the meeting early on Friday, which the organisers said was pre-planned. INC leader K Venugopal created a ruckus when former party leader Kapil Sibal visited the venue despite not being invited.

Even though veterans like RJD patron Yadav asserted that he won’t hesitate to sacrifice—the RJD’s interests—in the polls to defeat the BJP, it appears that the political parties flocking to the INDIA coalition are only uniting with the common agenda of defeating the BJP but may fall apart when they will have to agree on any seat-sharing arrangement.

In the last nine years, the BJP under Modi has managed to stun the Opposition with preemptive strikes. Now, with a commission set up for ‘one nation, one election’, and the convening of a surprise session of the Parliament can become the so-called “masterstrokes” from the Modi government, which can turn the INDIA coalition members disarrayed for the time being. 

It’s to be seen whether the Opposition can smartly deal with the new “surgical strikes” from the Modi government this time or will surrender and retreat.

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