The country’s opposition parties, all united in their opposition to the BJP, have come up with the mother of acronyms, stumping Narendra Modi, the king of acronyms, himself.
During his tenure, Modi has rolled out one acronym after another, many of them clunky and awkward — AMRIT (Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment), CHAMAN (Coordinated Horticulture Assessment and Management using geoiNformatics) and even BAPU (Biometrically Authenticated Physical Uptake). Only recently, in the United States, Modi offered his latest gem – AI, apparently, did not just stand for Artificial Intelligence, but America and India.
The 26 opposition parties which met in Bengaluru on Tuesday, declared that their group would be known as Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, in short, INDIA. The acronym is clever, the full name not so much. What does ‘Developmental Inclusive Alliance’ mean? And it is yet to be seen how it will be used in campaigns.
Yet, INDIA has something going for it and Modi might wish he had come up with it, because it has all the hallmarks he loves — a quickly recognisable and catchy short form.
Political parties and alliances used to have simple straightforward names which then became a jumble of alphabets that made the job of headline writers easy. RJD, BJP, BJP, DMK, AIADMK, TDP, JD (U), JD (S), CPI, CPI (M) — this alphabet soup was the order of the day and when groups were formed, they were Janata Party, Third Front, UPA and then NDA. In fact, it is the NDA which is in power in Delhi at the moment, even though the BJP and Modi dominate it so much that the others don’t matter. This allows the BJP to ride roughshod over its smaller partners and in the last few years, many allies such as the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena have left the grouping.
The UPA and the NDA are alliances, like the new opposition one. But one is ‘United’ and ‘Progressive’ and the other is ‘National’ and ‘Democratic’, though the latter word seems missing in its action. Meanwhile INDIA has decided to go for Developmental, which has a whiff of growth plus social justice, which should please all its members.
So, the first steps have been taken. A large number of parties have come together, united with a sense of purpose and determined to fight the BJP behemoth. The statement was called Samuhik Sankalp (collective determination, or resolve), which indicates a joint commitment. A new name has been chosen, a common programme will, it is hoped, follow soon. Political rivals have supped with each other, even hugged each other.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which had criticised the Congress for not supporting the Delhi ordinance the last time the opposition parties met in Patna, has now joined this group. Mamata Bannerjee, who had sniped at Rahul Gandhi now calls him her favourite; she also willingly becomes part of an alliance that has her two rivals the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)). Everyone sheds — on the face of it at least — their antipathy towards the Congress which they are either fighting in their respective states. The Congress, long considered arrogant by the same state level parties, now comes across as friendly and cooperative, eager to be an equal partner. Mallikarjun Kharge, who has surprised all the sceptics who criticised his election as Congress president, has handled not just his own party leaders (such as in Karnataka) but also opposition stalwarts in a diplomatic manner, assuring everyone that the Congress is not chasing power but is keen, like the others, in social justice and protecting the idea of India. The success of Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has meant that he is now taken much more seriously as a fellow politician; it helps that he has let Kharge do most of the talking.
But for this happy picture to go beyond optics will mean some serious work-compromises, adjustments and the most critical and painful of them all, seat sharing. This will require very delicate conversations and at the centre of them all will be the Congress.
In almost all the states which the regional opposition parties hold sway in, it is the Congress that is their main rival. Local Congress units have fought these parties over the years. Now for them to come together as one, even if for a higher purpose, will not be easy.
Will, for example, the AAP, which now dominates Delhi, share seats in the capital with the Congress? Not to forget in Punjab, where the Congress was in power till a year or so ago? What about in Bengal, where Mamata Bannerjee is at loggerheads with the Congress (and the CPI(M), which complicates matters). In places like Tamil Nadu it may not matter, but it will in Bihar, where Nitish Kumar will have reservations.
On the other hand, for all its accommodative spirit, the Congress will want its pound of flesh and demand seats in all the states from its alliance partners. The party is still a presence in Punjab, Delhi, Bengal and Maharashtra, among other states. The others will undoubtedly chafe at this ‘arrogant’ attitude of the Congress. Like it or not, among opposition parties, the Congress dominates the national scene and will become the villain of the piece.
The BJP will be watching all this with interest and not a little concern. Already, the BJP has gathered no less than 37 parties around it, which shows that it is not taking any chances, notwithstanding its greatest vote catcher. In the coming months, it will do all in its power to take advantage of any cracks that appear in INDIA. For all the bonhomie after the opposition meeting, there are still many challenges to overcome before the elections.