Smiling photo ops can’t cover up INDIA bloc’s fissures (IANS Column: FairPoint)


New Delhi, Sep 03, 2023, IANS

WhatsApp Image 2023 09 01 at 11.55.36 AM

New Delhi, Sep 3 (IANS) The third meeting of the INDIA bloc was successful in sending out the message that 28 opposition parties are finally on to some plan. But the challenges are huge — both internal and external. Photo-ops do show smiling leaders, but underneath, there’s a lot of turmoil.

Seen as a grouping of like-minded parties, the bloc is desperately trying to put up a show of unity before the crores of voters.

The 28 parties that constitute the INDIA bloc believe that they represent 60 per cent of the population, hence victory is certain. While speaking at the meet on Friday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, “This stage represents 60 per cent of the Indian population. If the parties on this stage unite, it will be impossible for the BJP to win an election.”

But the question is: Is it so simple? By coming together, will the like-minded bloc be able to dislodge the BJP in 2024? The answer is not equally easy.

The INDIA bloc has cleverly named itself so, and it believes that this may prove to be a gamechanger for the country’s political landscape. Naming the grouping of 28 parties INDIA seeks to send the message that they are the true representatives of India as Rahul Gandhi has been saying that “the BJP-RSS are against the idea of India”.

The opposition believes that the INDIA bloc can do what UPA couldn’t do in 2014 and thereafter. Will the new avatar produce magic for the opposition bloc? The challenges are galore, especially when the opponent is Narendra Modi.

The two-day Mumbai INDIA conclave did see happy faces at the end of the meet after some committees were formed. The leaders claim that things are moving and big decisions about seat sharing, convener’s name, and so on, will soon be finalised. The resolution adopted by the alliance, however, manifested the fears clearly.

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

The resolution in itself is a kind of acknowledgement that seat-sharing is the problem.

The seat-sharing struggle in the INDIA bloc will test the building bond. Already voices are being raised.

The challenge is also to overcome the perception that the bloc has brought together leaders and parties who have been fighting corruption cases. In fact, the change of the name from UPA to INDIA is seen as a move to shrug off the taint of corruption.

In its ten years (UPA-I and UPA-II) in office, the UPA government was reeling under corruption allegations, including 2G scam, coal scam, CWG scam, Adarsh scam, and so on, policy paralysis and nepotism. Then, leaders such as Lalu Yadav have already been convicted.

To counter past corruption charges, the bloc leaders have been targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Adani issue. The bloc leaders during their Mumbai meet sharpened the attack on PM Modi.

The bloc also believes that the electoral math this time is favourable to it. In the second term of the Modi-led NDA, a lot of changes in alliances have taken place. Parties have shifted from one grouping to another, thereby affecting the power dynamics.

The BJP-led NDA had 352 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, which has come down to 335 in 2023. The UPA had 91 seats in 2019 and after the formation of the INDIA bloc, the number has swelled to 144.

The seats of the NDA may have come down, but the number of parties, which was 19 in 2019, is 38 at present. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance held a mega meeting of its alliance partners in Delhi on July 18 in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The UPA in 2019 had 19 parties and the INDIA bloc has 28.

Electoral statistics may give the INDIA bloc a boost in its efforts to take on the Modi-led BJP/NDA, but it won’t be easy on the ground. PM Modi, despite the slowing economy, growing unemployment and rising inflation, continues to hold sway.

According to a survey by the PEW Research Center, about 80 per cent of Indians have a favourable view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and around seven in 10 Indians believe their country has recently become more influential.

The Modi-led BJP/NDA need not worry much as the 28 INDIA parties does not have a single leader who can match and override the Modi charisma. The INDIA bloc knows this.

The Opposition alliance is finding it difficult to choose its convener or decide on a logo. At the Mumbai meet, the logo thought was dropped and the convener’s name remained undecided.

On the question of holding a caste census, there was disagreement. This was a part of the bloc’s July resolution, but was dropped. Mamata Banerjee did not attend a joint press conference addressed by the alliance leaders after the meeting in Mumbai. Even senior Trinamool leader Derek O’Brien was not a part of the press conference

Several other leaders want the seat sharing exercise to commence quickly, but the Congress has its own plans.

In Mumbai, meanwhile, amid the rocking photo ops, the INDIA bloc promised more meetings and joint public rallies.

We can only wait and see if these exercises will help it surmount the obstacles that are likely to come along the way.


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