An alliance born as an acronym that aspires synonymity with who we are — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) it is to be, INDIA versus the rest in 2024.
Or that is how the 26 Opposition parties gathered for the Bangalore Summit have unitedly resolved to pitch it.
“India is under attack, this is going to be a battle to save India,” was the way Rahul Gandhi summed up the somewhat rushed closing rites of the second Opposition conclave.
“This is going to be a battle between the ideology of the BJP and INDIA, this is going to be a battle between Narendra Modi and INDIA, India always wins.”
Rahul spoke from a stage that had to stretch long enough to accommodate serried rows of Opposition entities. Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Sitaram Yechury, Siddaramaiah, Uddhav Thackeray, Arvind Kejriwal, Bhagwant Mann and Vaiko were among those that took the front.
A fair time was taken up in the afternoon trying to secure agreement on a name that has immediate resonance but may also run the risk of a legal challenge. But in the end, the gathered collective appeared rather chuffed with its adopted nomenclature.
Trinamul’s Derek O’Brien was probably the first to put it out, his tweet cheeky and celebratory of tone: “Chak de INDIA!” it went.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, host of the first summit in Patna, was among the few who had reservations about a political formation deciding to name itself after the country, but in the end he went with the flow, if reluctantly.
Nitish also had objections to the “Democratic” in INDIA because he said it would resemble “NDA”; he suggested “Developmental” instead.
So the conglomerate now has a name and a stated arrowhead of purpose — to end the assault on democracy and the Constitution by uprooting the Narendra Modi regime — but the rest is a can kicked further down the road to Mumbai.
It is there that, at a yet unspecified date, INDIA hopes to acquire an 11-member coordination committee and a Delhi-based secretariat to manage the complexities and logistics of the ambition to wage a unified campaign.
It is fair to assume the last days didn’t serve up enough time to pin down a common agenda that goes beyond the need to dislodge the Modi regime, which, the participants agree, constitutes a “systematic and severe” threat to the idea of India. It is also apparent that those gathered require more time to agree on the members and mandate of the coordination committee.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who announced Mumbai as the successor venue to these summits, referred briefly to difficulties in his remarks but sounded sure the Opposition parties would overcome them.
“We do have differences at the state level, there are problems in several states, but we have decided to work together at the national level for the sake of saving the country. What we are doing is not for ourselves, this is for saving democracy and the Constitution, and for addressing issues like unemployment and inflation and Manipur,” Kharge said.
Although descriptions like “unanimity” and “common purpose” were repeatedly employed from the stage, battle-readiness as a cohesive force remains a work in progress.
There is, despite the demonstrable camera bonhomie, a sense of resignation that the Congress-Trinamul-Left relationship is going to be as intractable as triangular ties can be.
Bengal and Kerala will remain jagged edges to whatever shape this effort acquires in the run-up to 2024. And worries persist over the nettled relationship and domain warring between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
There are also differences over issues that will require sorting. For instance, on the Uniform Civil Code, should it be thrust forcefully into the discourse as a talking point by the Modi government. The Kashmir-based parties will want a demand about the restoration of statehood, if not more, written explicitly into the aims and objects.
But amidst all of this, the Congress has been able to send out a broader message of intent unentangled from the nitty-gritty of intra-party refractions. It is that the party is willing to surprise the grouping with how far it may be willing to go in order to secure and sustain unity ahead of the next general election.
Kharge is believed to have told interlocutors repeatedly during the talks that the Congress is not in it hungry to grab power for itself, and that its alarm and concern at the “assault on democracy, institutions and the Constitution” are “genuine” and “necessitate a more generous outlook” in terms of accommodating others.
“The signals emerging from the Congress leadership are very encouraging and reassuring,” a top RJD leader told The Telegraph. “If the main Opposition party invests such sentiment in this exercise, we take it as a very positive sign.”
A question was popped by someone towards the end of the media interaction about what the seat-sharing formula might be, or how it would be arrived at. The silence that echoed back spoke to the rank premature nature of the query.
Mumbai might offer the beginnings of clarity, that’s how far Bangalore has yet pushed the unity enterprise called INDIA.