INDIA versus NDA: Truth Versus Lies
The story that Nitish Kumar left Bengaluru in a huff because he was unhappy with the proceedings of the two-day Opposition conclave, began doing the rounds as the Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal United leader left the capital of Karnataka before the press conference on 18 July.
Basing their content on what Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Delhi and Patna were evidently feeding them, several news channels cried hoarse. Their reports were as if the unity efforts of the 26 parties that had gathered in Bengaluru had suffered an irreparable blow.
The Patna-based Hindi newspapers had prominently carried the statements of the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi and former Bihar deputy chief minister Tarkishore Prasad. “Nitish had left the Opposition meeting midway and departed from the venue because he was unhappy at not being made the convenor of what the opposition have named their alliance as INDIA, an acronym for the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance,” Sushil Modi was quoted as saying. “Nitish would have understood how difficult it was to become a prime ministerial candidate when he was not even named as a convenor at the Bengaluru meet,” Tarkishore said.
By the afternoon of 19 July, JDU and Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders strongly denied these “cock-and-bull stories” with unassailable facts. First, the Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav denied the BJP story about discord and differences at the meeting, and Nitish Kumar himself clarified that there was no reason whatsoever for him to be unhappy.
“I left the meeting after everything had been discussed and it was over. Had I not boarded the flight at 4 pm, I would have had to wait till 9.30 pm. I had to return in time to attend the month-long Malmas Mela, a big cultural event at Rajgir in Bihar. That’s why I returned. INDIA is a mutually agreed name acceptable to all of us. The Bengaluru meet has achieved all the desired goals,” Kumar told reporters on the sidelines of the Rajgir event.
However, the BJP would find it hard to deny what Nitish has said about the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance held in Delhi on 18 July. “Do you remember him [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] ever calling an NDA meet? [Former prime minister] AB Vajpayee last called for an NDA meet in 1999, when we were in the coalition. And ask him [Modi] to name the parties that participated at his meet. It was [just] a congregation of those we have discarded,” the Bihar CM said, with an air of finality.
In fact, the BJP had organised the NDA meet on 18 July, apparently to occupy the media space against INDIA. It succeeded to a great extent. The channels were going gaga over the Prime Minister painting the Opposition conclave as a “conglomeration of corrupt leaders” and demonstrating his resolve to act against them. Several newspapers also gave the PM’s speech disproportionate coverage.
But what Modi failed to hide was that the NDA meet had Ajit Pawar and his colleagues, snatched from the Nationalist Congress Party, who had the Enforcement Directorate hot on their heels in connection with alleged cases of money laundering and scams just before they joined the BJP. The NDA meet had several other leaders under the scanner of central agencies, to get a reprieve in which is being seen as the reason for their switch to the BJP.
Nitish’s statement that the gathering in the NDA camp was “of leaders discarded by us” would have hurt the Prime Minister more. After all, the Bihar Chief Minister was absolutely correct, at least in Bihar’s context. Nitish had clearly asked the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, who is a former chief minister of Bihar, either to merge his party with the JDU or leave the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. Manjhi had no option than go to the BJP.
Moreover, the NDA meet was largely a congregation of parties that do not hold much individual significance in terms of the strength of their numbers in the Lok Sabha. They are politically insignificant against the INDIA alliance, which comprises strong regional parties with a sizeable presence in their respective states. The Opposition meet at Bengaluru was far bigger in size and geographic spread as it had 26 parties in attendance as against the 16 who were together at Patna on 23 June.
According to an estimate drawn on the basis of the figure available on the Election Commission’s website, the 16 Opposition parties had slightly larger voter base than the NDA on the national level.
Among all Opposition leaders, the BJP has been targeting Nitish the most, apparently, because he it sees him as the “pivot” of INDIA. After dumping the BJP in August 2022, Nitish embarked on uniting Opposition parties with zeal. His efforts are paying off as leaders and parties antagonistic to the Congress—West Bengal and Delhi Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, included—are now breaking bread with leaders of the grand old party.
Sources say Mamata hugged Sonia Gandhi and Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi chatted animatedly at their conclave. There was an atmosphere of conviviality all around at the dinner hosted by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. They chatted and laughed late into the night of 17 July. Each was, as many said, eager to rise above self interest and do their best to defeat the BJP in 2024 General Election. In a way, the Bengaluru meet has shaped INDIA by allowing leaders to break ice—both are substantial political achievements.
Challenges for Mumbai
It will be euphoric bordering on foolishness to say INDIA had achieved everything and become strong enough to defeat the BJP in 2024. It has long way to go and it will be an arduous political journey filled with manoeuvrings and challenges.
At least, four Opposition parties are, so far, not in the INDIA alliance but strong in their respective states. These include the Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, the Biju Janata Dal of Navin Patnaik in Odisha, the Bharat Rashtriya Samiti or BRS of K Chandrashekar Rao in Telangana and the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party or YSRCP of Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh.
Mayawati has announced she would contest independently of both INDIA and the NDA in the 2024 Lok Sabha election and in the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Given that about 14% of votes are at her command in Uttar Pradesh, she might not win many seats on her own but could smoothen the pitch for the BJP, which has made inroads into the non-Jatav Dalit communities in the most populous state with 80 Lok Sabha seats.
Though the Congress party is quite strong in South Indian states, and it is expected to do well, particularly after its grand victory in the Karnataka Assembly election recently, it and the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav will have to do exceptionally well [as a combine] to storm the Uttar Pradesh citadel of the BJP. It is fair to say at this stage that INDIA will have work hard to reach a realistic position to defeat the BJP in 2024—that is the challenge in the run-up to its meet in Mumbai, which is yet to be scheduled.
The author is a senior journalist, media educator, and independent researcher in social anthropology. The views are personal.
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