The 28-party Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) resolved to fight the 2024 Lok Sabha elections together “as far as possible” and put in place a structure in the shape of a 14-member central committee to finalise the seat-sharing arrangements at its Mumbai conclave on September 1.
The Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar called the first meeting of the opposition parties on 23 June at Patna. It was a grand beginning with the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, her Delhi counterpart, Arvind Kejriwal and the Samajwadi Party (Uttar Pradesh) president Akhilesh Yadav in attendance among 16 parties.
The opposition parties took their tally to 26 at their two-day Bengaluru meet in July and named their coalition as INDIA. After its Mumbai meet on 31 August and 1 September, the INDIA with 28 parties from most of the states across north and south of the Vindhyas looks like a formidable bloc to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the forthcoming general elections.
It was Nitish Kumar who had set the ball of opposition unity rolling by dumping the BJP in August 2022 in Bihar and joining the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties’ Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance). Initially, the BJP laughed it off questioning Nitish’s “credentials”. The political observers too were sceptical with Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and Akhilesh Yadav attacking the Congress and showing no interest in the coalition that had the grand old party in the centre.
Nitish, of course, well supported by the RJD boss Lalu Prasad Yadav and the latter’s son and his deputy Tejaswhi Yadav, categorically emphasised that the country couldn’t have an effective coalition without the Congress. Using his political dexterity and persuasive skill, he reached out to Mamata, Akhilesh and Kejriwal, finally bringing them to one table with the Congress. It’s for the INDIA to take a call on making Nitish its official convenor but the Bihar chief minister is, by all accounts, the architect of INDIA.
It’s for the first time in about nine and a half years of Narendra Modi’s rule, that the opposition parties have offered what looks like an effective alternative to the electorate at the national level. The confidence among the BJP cadres and also on the Prime Minister’s face is missing. It was for the first time during his two tenures Modi called the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coinciding with INDIA’s Bengaluru meet in July.
The Modi government summoned a special session of the parliament when INDIA was holding its Mumbai conclave and brought down the prices of cooking gas cylinders by Rs 200. The Hindutva cadres in Uttar Pradesh and other BJP-ruled states have stepped up hate campaigns against minorities to play the “Hindu versus Muslim card” more belligerently in the 2024 elections.
The “Hindu-Muslim card” has been central to the BJP’s politics among others, particularly after the 2014 elections. The INDIA bloc is taking up saving Constitution, caste census at the national level, price-rise, unprecedented unemployment, economic downturn, a bias for the crony capitalists against the common people, large-scale corruption in the developmental schemes at the centre and the BJP-ruled states, as pointed out in the Comptroller and Auditor General, reports, plight on farmers and growing atrocities on the minorities and Dalits among others as their issues to fight the elections.
Achill’s Hill in UP
The INDIA might fine-tune its strategy around the issues concerning the larger people and might field common candidates against the BJP in many states including Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party and the Congress might bury their hatches to contest together in U.P.
Still, the most populous state with as many as 80 Lok Sabha seats is likely to put up the biggest challenge to INDIA. It has emerged as the strongest bastion of Hindutva with its CM Adityanath Yogi brazenly carrying out hate campaigns against the minorities in Varanasi and Mathura on the pretext of “liberating” the shrines of Shiva and Krishna. The administration is on a spree to selectively bulldoze the houses of the minorities and the BJP cadres are flaunting their efforts with the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. “They (BJP) will make a big extravaganza in the name of inaugurating the Ram temple at Ayodhya in January next year. The Hindutva party will exploit the Ram temple issue to the hilt in UP in 2024 polls, a senior Samajwadi Party leader feared, expressing his helplessness.
There is a pure statistics behind the SP’s helplessness against the BJP. The BJP secured 41.29% votes against the S.P’s 32.1% in the 2022 assembly elections. Though the SP took its vote share from 21.8% in 2017 to 32.1% in 2022 and the BJP almost secured as many votes in 2022 as it had in 2017, the Hindutva party won 255 seats and registered a resounding victory against the SP that ended at 111 seats.
Now, even if the SP contests in alliance with the Congress it has little chance of getting into the position to defeat the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress secured barely three percent votes in 2022 polls and as such it’s hard to foresee the S.P-Congress combine doing a miracle against the BJP in the heartland state.
Moreover, the SP and the Congress had contested the 2017 elections together but lost to the BJP. Given the circumstances in the run-up to the 2024 polls, the most populous state might prove to be an Achill’s hill for INDIA.
Contrary to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar is all set to go the INDIA way in 2024. The BJP -Janata Dal (United) alliance had won 39 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The figure might reverse in 2024 as INDIA with Nitish-Lalu combine in its core too strong to let the BJP succeed in the state. Here also there is a pure statistics to suggest INDIA’s supremacy over the BJP in Bihar.
The BJP had done stupendously well in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar. It had exploited the situation arising out of the JDU and RJD contesting separately and also the factor of Narendra Modi who was fresh at that time. But a year later, the JDU-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan defeated the BJP roundly in the 2015 assembly elections. The Mahagathbandhan had secured 178 seats and 41.8% votes against the BJP’s 53 seats and 34.1% votes. This time around, the CPI-ML-Liberation—the largest Left party of the state with a sizable vote share in several parts of north, south and central Bihar—in the coalition, the state offers a bleak prospect to the BJP and a boon to INDIA.
The Congress has done exceptionally well in Karnataka by wresting the only south Indian state from the BJP in the recently concluded assembly elections. Rahul Gandhi has risen in his stature because of his padayatra across India and reaching out to the suffering people in Manipur and other parts of the country. The Congress is all set to give a tough fight to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh going to the polls by the end of 2023.
The ground reports from Maharashtra also suggest that the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray)-Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar) combine should do better in that state in 2024 with Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar enjoying the sympathy of the larger masses. The BJP usurped power in Maharashtra by splitting the Shiv Sena in 2022. Now, it has split the NCP too with the faction of Ajit Pawar joining the saffron party.