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How 26 Opposition Parties Agreed on 'INDIA' & Why Kejriwal Spoke At the Presser

Sources told The Quint that Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee came up with the name 'INDIA' for Opposition alliance.

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Producer/Anchor: Fatima Khan

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The coming together of as many as 26 Opposition parties for the Bengaluru meet—a significant increase from the fifteen that attended the earlier Patna meet— was largely focused on how to collectively brand itself in a way that allows for their differences to be mitigated, and a common agenda to be designed.

Sources told The Quint that it was Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and TMC’s Mamata Banerjee who came up with the acronym ‘INDIA’ together, after previously agreeing on the fact that the name needs to be “non-partisan" and "neutral".

“None of the parties, including those which have previously been a part of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) wanted the name to be reminiscent of that era. It would have seemed like Congress continues to be at the centre of this alliance. Also, ‘UPA’ carries some baggage with it given all the scam allegations levelled against the second UPA term, so it was best to start afresh,” said a senior Congress leader in the know.

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Moreover, Banerjee had in the Patna meet insisted that the Opposition meet cannot be framed as a ‘Modi vs Opposition parties’ narrative, or that could play to the BJP’s advantage in polarisation. Banerjee had suggested in the last meet that this needs to be famed as a 'BJP vs people of India’ fight, and thus the name INDIA came into being. The acronym INDIA here stands for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.

Sources said that both Gandhi as well as Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge told other leaders present at the meet that the Congress “wasn’t fixated on the PM’s post” and that “the PM question can be addressed when the time comes”. A similar message was sent out by Kharge earlier in the inaugural address of Tuesday’s meet, where he had said that "our intention in this meeting is not to gain power for ourselves.”

The Agenda Points That Were Fulfilled

In the run up to the meeting, there were largely five aspects that the parties were hoping to cover. Formulating a common agenda for 2024 Lok Sabha polls, including rallies and protests; deciding on a name for the Opposition alliance; setting up a coordination committee; initiating seat-sharing talks, and finally discussing the issue of EVMs and coming up with suggestions for the Election Commission.

Of these, the opposition parties were successful in fulfilling one, partially fulfilling one, and couldn’t get to the rest.

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The Opposition parties managed to come up with the term INDIA, unanimously accepted by all participants, and was able to release a ‘Samuhik Sankalp’ or ‘joint declaration’ which said the 26 parties express their “steadfast resolve to safeguard the idea of India as enshrined in the Constitution."

“We have come together to defeat the hatred and violence being manufactured against minorities; stop the rising crimes against women, Dalits, Adivasis and Kashmiri Pandits; demand a fair hearing for all socially, educationally and economically backward communities; and, as a first step, implement the Caste Census,” the statement by 26 opposition parties read.

However, when asked about a ‘common minimum program’ at the joint press conference, Kharge said the parties will work on that later.

Sources told The Quint that Banerjee was against using the term ‘common minimum program’ as it is commonly used in Left lexicon, and wanted to stick to using terms like ‘opposition union agenda’ or ‘common opposition issues’.

Points for the ‘Samuhik Sankalp’ were given by every party’s leader. While the Left parties spoke of including a paragraph about the economic deterioration in the last few years in the country, AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal said the opposition parties must emphasise the need to preserve and protect federalism. This was coming at the back of the Congress making its stand clear on the central government’s ordinance in Delhi, with its leaders saying they strongly oppose it, two days ago.

Seat Sharing And Other Tricky Subjects Skirted

The conversation around seat-sharing, however, could not take place this meeting. “It was on the agenda, yes. But it is a very vast topic and will not be an easy one at all. By the time one could come to that topic, it was already nearing the end of the meeting. Perhaps there will have to be a separate meeting to discuss just seat-sharing alone in the later months,” a leader said.

Since seat-sharing is a tricky and potential sticking point, Kharge suggested that the coordination committee that is formed take care of that. The coordination committee, which will have representation from all the parties, will include members who discuss beforehand with their party leaders what their take on seat-sharing and other issues is, and then bring those views to the committee meet.

The presence of senior Congress leader Sonia Gandhi in this meeting also proved helpful. Gandhi, who was absent in the previous Patna meet, has a good rapport with most senior leaders across party lines. Sources said that she sat down with Banerjee and leaders of various Left parties at the dinner on Monday night, to ensure the ice is broken ahead of the important meeting the next morning.

Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray did bring up the issue of ‘differences’ between the various political parties on a number of issues, such as the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The parties however came to the consensus that without a draft, there cannot be a discussion on the specifics of the matter.

The 'Who Will Speak' Question

As the meeting was reaching its end, the question of who all should address the media in the press conference came up. Sources said that Lalu Prasad Yadav suggested that Kejriwal should speak at the press conference, given that he skipped the Patna presser. Kejriwal and other AAP leaders had attended the previous meet but left immediately after, failing to make an appearance at the joint presser. In fact when the press conference was ongoing, AAP had released a statement criticising the Congress for not expressing support to the party in its fight against the Delhi ordinance.

This time, however, things were different, since the Congress had expressed support with the AAP on the issue.

"Nine years ago, the people of India made PM win with a huge mandate. BJP got a lot of opportunities to develop the country. But none of the sectors has benefited. They have destroyed everything. They have sold everything. Everyone in this country is unhappy. We have to save the country. We have a dream of "naya bharat". Employment, health, education for all," Kejriwal said.

Yadav had also suggested that other senior party leaders like Sharad Pawar should speak at the conference. However, Pawar refused, pre-empting questions about Ajit Pawar’s recent switch to the NDA.

Uddhav Thackeray then volunteered to speak at the joint press conference, ensuring that the three non-Congress leaders that address the media, are those that haven’t had the best relations with the party: TMC’s Banerjee, AAP’s Kejriwal and Shiv Sena’s Thackeray.

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