INDIA bloc puts premium on dialogue, finding common ground amid some differences

INDIA bloc puts premium on dialogue, finding common ground amid some differences

A possible fourth conclave, massive public rallies across the nation, deeper bonding among leaders -- the anti-BJP bloc is steadily taking wings

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Aware that wallowing any longer over points of divergence when speculation is rife over the possibility of general elections being called early would undo the monumental effort of building their 28-party anti-BJP front, the INDIA coalition, on Friday (September 1) resolved to initiate discussions immediately on a state-wise seat-sharing arrangement.

Pithy one-line resolutions adopted unanimously at the conclusion of their two-day conclave in Mumbai mentioned that the INDIA constituents would “contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections together as far as possible” for which discussions over seat-sharing arrangements will be “concluded at the earliest in a collaborative spirit of give-and-take”.

Massive public rallies planned

The INDIA partners also resolved to soon organise public rallies “in different parts of the country on issues of public concerns and importance” and that all constituent parties would “coordinate our respective communications and media strategies and campaigns with the theme Judega Bharat, Jeetega India in different languages”

The formulation of the resolution on seat sharing – its stress on fighting the polls together ‘as far as possible’ – was a dilution of the coalition’s hitherto professed ambition of fielding a consensus candidate against the BJP nominee for as many as 400 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 constituencies.

Sources privy to the protracted discussions among the over five dozen INDIA leaders gathered at Mumbai’s Grand Hyatt hotel on August 31 and September 1 told The Federal that there were also several other crucial issues over which an agreement could not be reached.

Among these was the demand by parties such as Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Nitish Kumar’s JD (U), Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, MK Stalin’s DMK and constituents of the Left Front to reiterate the alliance’s commitment made in Bengaluru in favour of conducting a caste census in the political resolution that was adopted on Friday.

Mamata not for any truck with Left

Sources said West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was not convinced of the RJD, JD (U) and SP’s combined push for caste surveys to be conducted in states presently ruled by INDIA constituents and pressed for more nuanced discussion on the demand for a caste census too, though the bloc had already committed to the latter after its Karnataka meeting. The Trinamool Congress chief was also uncomfortable with any seat-sharing plan that included the Left Front nor was she in favour of naming a convenor for the INDIA bloc. The Left Front, too, was not keen on sharing its electoral pitch in Bengal with Banerjee’s party.

Interestingly, the alliance also refrained from unveiling a logo at its joint press conference despite a section of its leaders telling the media earlier that an INDIA logo was in the offing.

Sources said it was a senior leader of Banerjee’s party who had first mooted the idea that the alliance must have a logo representative of its name which should adorn the backdrop of all joint rallies and publicity material of the INDIA coalition.

However, sources said that the idea was abruptly dropped after several parties expressed their reservations against it and said that a tagline – Judega Bharat, Jeetega India – should suffice. Whether the objection stemmed from displeasure among a section of the INDIA parties over Banerjee’s disapproval of ideas mooted by other outfits was unclear. Sources said that though the Trinamool chief was not pleased with the bloc shooting down a proposal mooted by her party, she did not make this a prestige issue.

No alliance in Kerala

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury also spelled out the obvious hurdle of any alliance with the Congress in Kerala; a state where the Left-led LDF coalition and the Congress-led UDF alliance are traditional rivals and the BJP’s electoral footprint is practically invisible. There was, thus, no surprise in Yechury stating during the joint press meet that seat-sharing arrangements would be done state-wise and that the electoral compact of the INDIA bloc would “vary from state to state”.

That the still-growing INDIA bloc would face hiccups when it begins to firm up its electoral architecture was expected considering that the coalition comprises headstrong satraps, who each wish to guard their political fiefs closely and have overlapping aspirations and ambitions. This was, perhaps, weighing on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s mind when, with his characteristic candour, he admitted at the INDIA press meet what other leaders of the grouping were only speaking of in hushed tones. “Of course, there are differences (among INDIA leaders)”, Rahul told journalists but went on to assert that he was “extremely impressed by the way those differences are minimised and ironed out”.

The former Congress chief also pointed out that “the real work in this alliance is the relationships that are forged between the leaders... I can say with confidence that these meetings have done a huge amount in building the rapport between all the leaders and ensuring that all of us work together as one”.

There is no denying that as the INDIA group proceeds to have further consultations in its 14-member coordination and election strategy committee or in the four other panels announced on Friday – campaign committee and the three working groups for social media, media and research – more contentious issues may come to the fore. However, at least for now, leaders of the coalition, despite their competing ambitions and electoral concerns, have largely succeeded in presenting a united front in public against their common political foe – the BJP – and refrained from outbursts of dissent that could imperil the prospects of their bloc. Sources said the overriding sentiment during the Mumbai conclave, as during the previous ones held in Patna and Bengaluru, was to find common ground and continue constructive dialogue on unresolved issues while refraining from any hasty and harsh decisions.

Next 40 days important

Sources said that though the alliance leaders refrained from publicly declaring a time frame within which the group hopes to finalise its seat-sharing arrangements and conclude preliminary drafts of strategies that the campaign committee and the three working groups hope to employ, there is an informal understanding that these tasks must be finished within the next 30 to 45 days.

Any disputes that may arise over seat-sharing arrangements, sources said, will be settled through dialogue between the senior leadership of parties concerned, which will continue to have backchannel talks on varied issues aside from the formal discussions in the committees constituted on Friday.

Fourth conclave?

A senior alliance leader told The Federal that there is a possibility of a fourth INDIA conclave being held before the model code of conduct kicks in for the Assembly polls due at the end of this year in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. The venue and schedule for the conclave may be announced after the five-day special session of Parliament convened by the Centre from September 18 concludes. The fourth conclave is likely to see more substantive announcements by the INDIA bloc about seat-sharing, common minimum programme (a separate panel to finalise this may also be set up later this month), joint campaigns and other issues.

Meanwhile, the campaign committee of the INDIA bloc will also hold discussions with leaders of the alliance to finalise “four to six joint rallies that the top INDIA leadership will address in different parts of the country, preferably within the next two months as a precursor to a more sustained joint campaign that will take off after the assembly polls conclude,” a Congress leader told The Federal.

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