The third installment of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or INDIA meet on Friday, 1 September had a few surprises sprung its way. On Thursday, Union Minister Pralhad Joshi announced that a “special session” of the parliament is being called for between 18 to 22 September. This announcement came around the same time as many opposition leaders flew down to Mumbai for the INDIA meet. This had already piqued curiosity following which on Friday, the government announced that a committee is being set up under former President Ram Nath Kovind to explore the feasibility of ‘one nation, one election’.
This sudden move caused much of the conversation and dialogue at the opposition alliance meet to revolve around the same.
Alarmed After Announcement, Leaders Say 'Expedite The Process'
The Mumbai meet saw a total of 28 parties participate, two up from the earlier Bengaluru meet.
At the informal dinner on Thursday evening, hosted by Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray, much of the chatter was around the motive behind the sudden session.
AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal, TMC’s Mamata Banerjee and JD-U’s Nitish Kumar all advocated for INDIA to expedite its discussions and release a concrete election campaign and seat-sharing plan by the end of September. Kumar also suggested that the date of the Lok Sabha polls could be rescheduled to sooner than May, meaning the opposition would have even lesser time than they anticipated.
Much of the same conversation spilled over the next day at the official meeting. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and TMC’s Mamata Banerjee both proposed that a manifesto or a common minimum program of the alliance partners be prepared and released on 2 October, Mahatama Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
The meeting, which started at 11 am and went on till 3 pm, saw leaders from multiple parties proposing a name for the coordination committee. The final list included Congress’ KC Venugopal, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, DMK’s TR Baalu, JMM’s Hemant Soren, Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Sanjay Raut, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, TMC’s Abhishek Banerjee, AAP’s Raghav Chaddha, SP’s Javed Ali Khan, JDU’s Lallan Singh, CPI’s D Raja, NC’s Omar Abdullah, PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, and a CPI-M member to be decided later.
A list of campaign committee members, working group for social media, as well as a working group for media purposes was also announced.
None Of The Gandhis In Any List; Convenor Post Still Vacant
Interestingly, none of the Gandhis made it to any of these lists. Congress sources said this could be a way for the family, particularly Rahul Gandhi, to assert his non-interference and willingness to adjust, that the leader spoke of after the meeting as well.
“The real work in this alliance is the relationships that are forged between the leaders of this alliance. I can say with confidence that these two meetings have done a tremendous amount in building rapport among all the leaders and ensuring that all of us work together as one,” Gandhi said at the press conference after the meet.
However, the spot of the convenor of INDIA is still vacant. Sources said that while the spot would be useful for Rahul Gandhi in fortifying his claim as the eventual PM contender, a more senior leader might be a better fit in ensuring egos don’t clash. Among the top runners for the post are Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and JDU leader Nitish Kumar.
Joint Rallies, Logo, Slogan And More
Addressing the elephant in the room, Rahul Gandhi raised the seat-sharing issue at the meet. While the previous two meetings were spent discussing the broad contours of the alliance, this particular meeting was focused on finalising concrete details. However, CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury proposed that the discussion only be initiated and led by the coordination committee, to minimise confusion and the back-and-forth.
However, all party leaders agreed that a joint resolution must be passed stating that the alliance will be fighting the 2024 Lok Sabha polls together.
The resolution passed by the coalition said that they will be contesting the Lok Sabha elections together "as far as possible" and that "seat sharing arrangements in different states will be initiated immediately and concluded at the earliest in a collaborative spirit of give and take".
Moreover, sources said that the possibility of joint alliance rallies were also discussed and it was decided that two rallies will be held in each of the four regions of the country. The dates of these rallies will be announced next week.
The finalisation of the logo of INDIA was also on the agenda for the meet. A party leader said that none of the parties would want the alliance logo to be too similar to any one party’s existing logo and should be completely neutral. By the end, the time ran out and there couldn’t be a consensus on the various design possibilities. The logo is likely to be finalised and announced in the coming weeks.
Gandhi, however, said that since a logo is not being finalised today, a motto or tag line for the alliance must be decided. Sources said that it was Gandhi who pitched 'Judega Bharat, Jeetega India' as the slogan, and was unanimously agreed upon. “The slogan had both Bharat and India incorporated, pre-empting any criticism from BJP,” a Congress leader said.
In July, after the alliance name was announced, BJP leader and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma slammed the opposition alliance saying “India is not Bharat” and then went on to remove India from his Twitter (now X) bio and added Bharat instead.
A Surprise Called Kapil Sibal
Another surprise sprung on the Congress was the presence of Kapil Sibal, former Congress leader who had left the party last year and was subsequently backed by the Samajwadi Party for Rajya Sabha. Sibal, who was a critique of how the Congress leadership was dragging its feet on Congress Working Committee (CWC) elections, among other things, had finally quit the party last year.
Sources said that Sibal was not among the official list of names the SP had given from its end for attending the INDIA Mumbai meet, which had included Akhilesh Yadav, Ram Gopal Yadav, Kiranmoy Nanda and Abu Azmi. Besides being a Rajya Sabha MP with SP support, Sibal enjoys good ties with a number of INDIA constituents. This includes the Shiv Sena, which had also taken Sibal's legal help when its internal dispute reached the Supreme Court. While Congress leaders, particularly K.C. Venugopal, expressed surprise at this, sources said that there was no confrontation of any sort between the two.
In the photo that was clicked at the beginning of the meet, Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders can be seen at the center of the group, while Sibal was at the far end.