Panels, logo, public outreach on agenda of INDIA meeting
Sixty-three leaders from 28 opposition parties flew into Mumbai on Wednesday for a two-day meeting of the INDIA.
Sixty-three leaders from 28 opposition parties flew into Mumbai on Wednesday for a two-day meeting of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), bracing for tough negotiations that will test their unity in what is tipped to be the group’s first effort at moving beyond symbolism to resolve thorny substantive issues of leadership and political strategy.
A month after forming the grouping in Bengaluru, the parties are likely to discuss architecture, timeline and strategy, unveil a common logo and chalk out a mega public outreach programme with joint rallies, the first time the bloc is trying a consorted campaign outside Parliament, three INDIA leaders said on the condition of anonymity. (INDIA meet LIVE updates)
The INDIA leaders might also fix timelines for key tasks, evolve a social media plan, fix the schedule for the next meeting (to be held in north India), and consider a few resolutions, including one on electronic voting machines, said the leaders cited above. Farmer leader Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Saghtana and Peasants and Workers Party of India are likely to join the 26 parties already part of the bloc.
But the contentious issue of working panels, especially a 11-member coordination committee to handle secretarial work and operational task, may generate differences at the Mumbai meeting on August 31 and September 1, the leaders cited above added. Some disquiet was already visible on the eve of the meeting after a Congress post on the bloc on Instagram featured Rahul Gandhi at the centre and omitted Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The decision to name a convener for the bloc – Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad said announcement was likely to be made on Thursday – might also highlight fault lines. A section of the Opposition feels that there is no need for a convener now. At least two parties maintain that instead of a convener for INDIA bloc, the coordination committee can have one.
Various names of possible conveners are already swirling – from Nitish Kumar to Mallikarjun Kharge – ahead of the event, highlighting competing ambitions.
“The meeting will focus on architecture, timelines and strategies,” said a senior leader, seeking anonymity.
But the grouping’s leaders scotched speculation of differences, saying the agenda will remain focussed on taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The senior leader also appeared to rule out the inclusion of the Shiromani Akali Dal for now, and said the Bahujan Samaj Party was in touch with the BJP.
New logo launch
The meeting will also see the unveiling of the logo of a grouping that is in power in 11states, and which won 134 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, securing a 35% vote share. At least 19 outfits have less than three seats in the Lok Sabha; and 11 have none (Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party not considered due to internal disputes).
After the first two meetings of the Opposition alliance in Patna in June and Bengaluru in July, the Mumbai gathering is set to focus on campaigns in a number of states. “The focus will be how to reach the common people. We have held two meetings so far. 26 parties have come to a common ideological platform. In Bengaluru, we have given our alliance a name. now we have to take this alliance to the people,” said a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity.
Two non-Congress Opposition leader echoed similar sentiments. “We have worked together as team INDIA in Parliament. But with eight months left for the Lok Sabha elections, we have to discuss on public outreach,” said a leader who asked not to be named.
The proposals, said a third Opposition leader, included holding joint meetings of the alliance in many states including in the Northeast on key issues such as price rise, unemployment, federalism and misuse of central agencies.
But it might not all be smooth sailing. All parties are expected to agree on the outreach plan, but some may try to scuttle plans to form a number of committees, including the all-important coordination panel. Another section, however, is expected to push for the formation of the 11-member committeee, and decide on a formula to constitute at least five subject committees to manage campaign and logistics.
A top-ranking Opposition leader expressed reservations about these panels. “We are currently 26 parties (two more will formally join on Thursday) committed to greater unity. How can one pick eleven leaders from 26 parties on the basis of numerical strength in Parliament?” the leader asked.
A senior Congress strategist and two senior non-Congress opposition leaders went into a huddle at New Delhi’s Constitution Club on Wednesday to sort out the differences before the issues are formally taken up at the Mumbai meeting.
The group, which sees merit in the formation of these panels, pointed out that Congress president Kharge had announced that these committees would be formed in Mumbai.
INDIA members are also on board to discuss EVMs threadbare. Even as the Election Commission has repeatedly rejected allegations of EVM manipulation, the Opposition might try to raise these issues again. “It is true that the EVMs are not connected to web. But EC has to go online to get the sequence of names in the voting machine. Also, we have been asking that the control unit has to be placed near the voting unit and VVPAT should be generated from the control unit,” said an Opposition leader.
Some of the constituents might also raise issues of federal structure and insist on passing more resolutions (the Congress has prepared three resolutions in advance).
A plan for using each other’s social media accounts for greater milage and showcasing unity of the alliance is on the cards. Trinamool Congress’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien pointed out how on Tuesday, Kejriwal retweeted West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee’s tweet on the Centre’s decision to reduce cooking gas prices. “This is a fine example of how we can collectively work in social media,” he added.
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