INDIA bloc to begin seat parleys, hold joint rallies
The coordination panel, which met in Delhi, announced that the group will take up the demand of the caste census, a nationwide count of all castes.
The top decision-making body of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) on Wednesday asked state units to start negotiations on seat-sharing arrangements for the upcoming assembly elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, and decided to hold a string of joint public rallies, initiating crucial preparations to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The coordination committee of the INDIA bloc announced that seat-sharing talks should conclude “at the earliest”; said two leaders aware of developments, adding that state units will be informally asked to finish the negotiations by the end of October.
The coordination panel, which met in the national Capital, announced that the group will take up the demand of the caste census, a key issue for the Opposition group that has been pushing for a nationwide count of all castes.
After the nearly three-hour long meeting, Congress general secretary KC Venugopal said that the first of the joint public rallies will be held in Bhopal in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh in October, to highlight “rising prices, unemployment, and the corruption of BJP government”.
“The coordination committee has decided to start the process for determining seat-sharing. It was decided that member parties would hold talks and decide at the earliest,” said a joint statement released after the meeting that was attended by 12 parties.
In a rare move for a political group, the panel also authorised a 19-member media sub-group to blacklist a number of television news anchors. “The decision was taken as these anchors are highlighting only the government agenda,” said a third leader aware of the matter.
The INDIA bloc came together earlier this year after opposition parties met in Patna and Bengaluru, and decided to fight the 2024 polls together to take on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). But in recent weeks, especially after its Mumbai meeting two weeks ago, a sense of urgency has seeped into the grouping that is looking to get battle ready at the earliest.
Two weeks after the formation of the coordination committee, the panel held its first meeting at Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar’s residence in Delhi on Wednesday. The key agenda was to green light seat talks between the 28 parties that form the grouping, but two leaders quoted above added that the issue of blacklisting some anchors consumed a major chunk of the time, with some participants suggesting a similar move even at the state level.
The leaders also expressed solidarity with Trinamool Congress (TMC) general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, who couldn’t attend the meeting because he was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). “Abhishek Banerjee of Trinamool Congress could not attend the meeting due to summon by ED, arising out of the vendetta politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Prime Minister," said Venugopal.
The next meeting of the panel will be held after the special session of Parliament that ends on September 22.
“The coordination committee authorised the sub-group on media to decide the names of the anchors on whose shows none of the INDIA parties will send their representatives,” Venugopal added.
Twelve parties — the Congress, NCP, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Shiv Sena (UBT), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United), Communist Party of India, National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party — attended the meeting.
A number of leaders including Venugopal, AAP lawmaker Raghav Chadha and CPI leader D Raja insisted that seat-sharing talks must start soon.
Raja and Chadha were among the first leaders who said seat talks should include the upcoming assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. “The seat adjustments in these (assembly) polls will be an acid test for the alliance,” a leader said in the meeting.
The seats will be adjusted on the basis of Lok Sabha and assembly poll results of the past elections, people aware of the matter said.
“Discussion have started for the assembly elections. I had proposed that the seats that are already held by members of the INDIA bloc should not be open for discussion, we should be discussing the seats held by the BJP, NDA or parties that are not part of either of those alliances,” said former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah.
Venugopal told meeting that seat talks must happen in a “cordial atmosphere” and in case of major disagreement, the central leaders of the respective parties will step in, said people aware of the matter. He also said that in some states such as Telangana, the Congress had already started initial discussions on seat sharing, the people cited above added.
Pawar expressed hope that seat-sharing would happen smoothly. “He referred to the Maharashtra alliance between Uddhav Thackeray’s faction, the NCP and the Congress, and the pre-existing alliance in other states and said there would be no issue,” said a leader present in the meeting.
A non-Congress leader later said that a number of participants pressed for an informal deadline for the state units to complete seat negotiations. “Some leaders suggested October 15 as the cut-off date. A few leaders felt extension can be given till October 31,” this non-Congress leader added.
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren, Bihar deputy CM Tejaswi Yadav and Raja reiterated the demand to include the caste census in the press communique of the meeting.
At this stage, Pawar and Venugopal pointed out that West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had expressed her reservations about the caste census in the Mumbai meeting. “It was decided that senior leaders of the alliance will talk to Banerjee on the caste census,” said a participant on the condition of anonymity.
A TMC leader told HT that the party held reservations about the caste census as the BJP might try to exploit religious undertones, an oblique hint to the inclusion of Muslims in the other backward classes quota, as is the case in some states such as Bengal.
“It has been decided that member parties will start the process for seat sharing and take a decision on it soon. Overall, it has been decided that all the member parties will deliberate on seat sharing and come to a conclusion,” Chadha said.
After the meeting, Soren said, “Let the time come. The people of the country and various political parties are asking a lot of questions. Keeping in view the sequence of events, the INDIA alliance is working on its strategy.”
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national spokesperson Sambit Patra on Wednesday accused the INDIA alliance of conspiring to abolish Hinduism.
“Today Anti-Hindu Coordination Committee (AHCC) meeting has been called at Sharad Pawar’s home. They will also discuss seat sharing. But before the coordination, the non-coordination and non-cooperation has started,” Patra said. “This is not a meeting of campaign or seat sharing... Their only aim is to abolish Hinduism.”