The triple jump, sometimes referred to as hop, skip and jump, is a track and field event, similar to long jump in sport. The conglomerate of 28 parties with a pretentious and confusing name, I.N.D.I.A (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) seems to be afflicted by hops and skips of key participants, all Chief Ministers and leaders of prominent state parties, prior to the alliance jumping to emerge as a viable alternative to Narendra Modi and his NDA (National Democratic Alliance).
Each of its three conclaves has been marked by a prominent party chief who is also a Chief Minister throw tantrums and hop out at the end, skipping the grand finale.
In Patna, Arvind Kejriwal left prior to the joint media briefing as he had a “flight to catch”. Nitish Kumar, accompanied by Lalu Yadav and his son Tejashwi, similarly rushed back to Patna. In Mumbai, Mamata Banerjee, accompanied by nephew Abhishek Banerjee and party leader Derek O’Brien dashed to Kolkata, skipping the media interaction by other leaders of I.N.D.I.A.
Mamata Banerjee usually does not use commercial flights; West Bengal hires aircraft for her. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav too had a special aircraft. Arvind Kejriwal, accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, travels by the Punjab state plane. The departure time of all three flights could have been flexible to suit the programme of the conclaves.
The two-day Mumbai conclave did not throw up a convener. Or a common logo, as hyped in the media before the meeting. Initially, the plan was for the conclave to culminate in a public meeting at the Shivaji Park in Dadar. There was no mention of this plan during the two-day meet. The ability of factions of the Shiv Sena and NCP that are part of the alliance, along with the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress, to mobilise an impressive gathering in Mumbai was an option which went off the radar somewhere midway.
The two-day deliberation was reflected in a one-page resolution in which the intent to contest the 2024 general elections together “as far as possible” was chronicled. The distance to be traversed was left ambiguous. Intra-state differences of the 28 “partners” apparently had not been papered over. No political resolution was adopted, thus betraying the possibility of lack of unanimity on issues.
The one-page resolution, which is unprecedented in India’s political history due to its brevity, said that seat sharing arrangements “will be initiated immediately and concluded at the earliest in the collaborative spirit of give and take”. The inability to set a timeline on seat-sharing miffed Mamata Banerjee, necessitating her hurry to catch a flight back to Kolkata.
Mamata wanted seat sharing to be decided by the third week of September. Sitaram Yechury of CPI(M) suggested that the timeline be flexible, and that seat sharing be discussed not on the national, but at the state-to-state level.(Will Mamata’s and Yechury’s parties share seats in West Bengal?)
The alliance plans one-on-one contests against the NDA in 400 to 440 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats. A 14-member apex committee was set up, which includes heavyweight Sharad Pawar of NCP (Sharad) alongside Abhishek Banerjee (Trinamool), Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Omar Abdullah (Jammu and Kashmir National Conference), and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP). This and the other four panels announced in Mumbai lacked gravitas; mostly second and third rung leaders were chosen by parties as nominees.
Raghav Chadha emerged as the prominent face of AAP by being included. The CPI(M) did not finalise its nominee for the apex panel though it named members to the other sub-panels which were set up. The CPI put up its top man D Raja. The Congress is represented by its organisation secretary, KC Venugopal.
Another emerging face at Mumbai was that of Abhishek Banerjee. His air dash to Delhi to have a powwow with Rahul Gandhi on the eve of the Mumbai meet showed that Congress-Trinamool ties are no longer Sonia Gandhi-Mamata centric.
The Trinamool Congress did not finalise its name for any of the other four panels: the campaign committee, social media committee, media committee and a research committee. The Congress nominated its social media head, Supriya Shrinate, in the panel of her subject, but her counterpart, media department head Pawan Khera, did not find a place in the media committee, where party general secretary Jairam Ramesh did.
The sudden entry of eminent lawyer Kapil Sibal, a prominent face in the Opposition ranks who is active both in parliament and in the Supreme Court, upset the Congress. Sibal, part of the “G23” reform brigade, left the Grand Old Party (which he had joined at the instance of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991) in 2022 and was elected to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh supported by the Samajwadi Party. No one seemed to know who had invited Sibal to this joint meeting of national and state parties. Speculation ranged from joint hosts Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray to Farooq Abdullah and Sibal’s latest benefactor, Akhilesh Yadav. Sibal is representing cases of many opposition parties in the Supreme Court and is a confidant of a mosaic of party leaders.
These glitches apart, the intent and determination evidenced in Patna and Bengaluru were somewhat absent in Mumbai.
The venue of the next meeting has not been declared. Speculation is that it may be Bhopal. With Kamal Nath at the helm of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, a conclave in the state capital will certainly aid the party’s campaign in this poll-bound state.
The announcement of the next venue was kept in abeyance apparently as CPI (M) secretary Sitaram Yechury advised against holding a meeting in any state where assembly elections are due later this year. The communist leader, an expert on dialectics, cautioned that alliance partners may contest against each other in state polls and this may distract from the focus on uniting against the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections.
Yechury perhaps factored in the recent forays Arvind Kejriwal, accompanied by Bhagwant Mann, has been making in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (where he offered voters agendas different from those of Chief Ministers Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot) and into the Congress-dominated opposition turf in Madhya Pradesh.
The scenario emerging for the next general election is similar to that of 1971, when a combined opposition tried to oust a strong Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Their war cry “Indira hatao” was effectively countered by Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao“. Will Narendra Modi’s aspirational “Amritkaal” stymie a similar Charge of the Light Brigade now?
The opposition has questioned the timing of the special session of parliament convened in September. The prerogative of summoning parliament and setting an agenda lies with the ruling party of the day. The one-page resolution of Mumbai does not elaborate how the alliance plans to offset Narendra Modi’s agenda-setting juggernaut.
(Shubhabrata Bhattacharya is a retired Editor and a public affairs commentator)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.