Setting the ball rolling, constituents of the INDIA bloc at the Mumbai summit have resolved to initiate talks on seat-sharing arrangements “immediately” and to conclude it “at the earliest” though without setting a specific deadline, but they decided that it will be conducted in a “collaborative spirit of give and take”. The meeting, the partners said, was held in an atmosphere of bonhomie but according to sources, differences emerged over the issue of caste census.
The parties under INDIA (Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance) also announced the names of two committees — 14-member coordination and election strategy committee and a 19-member campaign committee along with three working groups for social media (12 members), media (19), and research (11).
INDIA bloc Mumbai meeting | Updates
Conceding to the political reality, especially in States like Kerala, where seat sharing is not possible since two constituents, the Congress and the Left, are engaged in a head-on battle, the resolution said the INDIA parties would “contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections together as far as possible”. According to sources, at least five parties demanded that a deadline be fixed for working out the formula, but the larger consensus was that such a deadline cannot be dictated at the central level since it has to be worked out by the States.
The parties also resolved to “organise public rallies at the earliest in different parts of the country on issues of public concern and importance.” A proposal was mooted to have five rallies — Patna, Nagpur, Delhi, Chennai and Guwahati, deliberately omitting the election-going States, since there is no seat-sharing arrangement in place for the Assembly elections. “It could get embarrassing if two or more INDIA constituents are fighting against each other,” one of the leaders said.
Lastly, it was decided that the INDIA parties will coordinate communications and media strategies and campaigns with the theme Judega Bharat, Jiteega India in different languages.
During the meeting, it is learnt that there were suggestions that in view of the special session of Parliament called by the government, a separate resolution should be passed flagging the Opposition’s agenda for it, including the need to have a caste census and reviving women’s reservation Bill. JD(U) national president Lallan Singh forcefully spoke about the need for INDIA to enunciate its position on caste census and sharpen the demand for it. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee objected to it. She said various governments had already conducted caste census or were in the process of doing so, but as far as the Trinamool Congress was concerned, they need more time to formulate their position on it. The Bihar parties were none too happy with this position of Ms. Banerjee. Playing the peacemaker, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, it is learnt, agreed that the Trinamool should be given more time. Ms. Banerjee and no one from the Trinamool was present during the joint press conference that the leaders addressed at the end of the meeting.
It has been agreed in principle that the INDIA bloc will present its vision document for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections on October 2 in Rajghat as proposed by Ms. Banerjee at both Thursday’s and Friday’s meetings.
DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, as per sources, also underscored the importance of evolving a common minimum programme. In fact, he said the vision document should be the face of the INDIA bloc, it doesn’t particularly need any one person to do so.
In his opening remarks on Friday, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge cautioned the INDIA parties to be prepared for “more attacks in the coming months, more raids and arrests” from the government.
He said that as the alliance gained more ground the misuse of agencies would increase. “It has done the same in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bengal. In fact, last week, it was done in Jharkhand and in Chhattisgarh,” he added.
Sources said the Congress was likely to host the next meeting of the bloc and proposed to hold it in poll-bound States of Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, picking either Hyderabad or Bhopal as the venue.
Speaking at a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party recently had stirred up a hornets’ nest when it proposed Mr. Kejriwal as the prime ministerial face of the Opposition alliance, said none of the constituents was fighting for any post. “INDIA is not just an alliance of 28 parties, it is a coalition of 140 crore Indians and more parties will join soon. INDIA will ensure [Narendra] Modi’s debacle,” he claimed. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, meanwhile remarked that the alliance was vigilant of the possibility that the government could call for early polls. “We are working on a fast-forward mode,” he said.
Surprisingly even though the publicised schedule of the meeting accounted for a launch of the logo, it has been put on hold for now. Sources blamed Shiv Sena (Udhav Thackeray) for announcing it without any prior consultations. “There was a suggestion that we take people’s views on the logo since this fight is for the cause of the people,” Mr. Thackeray told reporters.