2024 General Election: It boils down to NDA vs INDIA, finally

The opposition has firmed up the name of the new grouping as Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) at a strategy meet held in Bengaluru even as Congress chief Kharge described the forging of anti-BJP front as a key step ahead of 2024 polls, writes Amit Agnihotri

The 2024 Lok Sabha polls are going to be contested between the opposition alliance INDIA and the ruling coalition NDA.

While Congress is the largest party in the opposition grouping, BJP is the centre of the NDA, which came to power in 2014 and again in 2019. The Congress, which led the UPA government from 2004-2014, has claimed that INDIA will defeat NDA in 2024.

The opposition had been talking about forging an anti-BJP platform for the 2024 national polls for long but firmed up the name of the new grouping the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) at a strategy session in Karnataka’s Bengaluru on July 18.

As many as 26 opposition parties attended the July 18 meeting hosted by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge who announced that his party was not hankering for power or position but was keen on protecting democracy in the country.

Besides former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, former party chief Rahul Gandhi, Tami Nadu chief minister and DMK leader MK Stalin, Bihar chief minister and JD-U leader Nitish Kumar, Delhi chief minister and AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal, Jharkhand chief minister and JMM leader Hemant Soren, West Bengal chief minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee and RJD chief Lalu Prasad were among those who attended the two-day meet.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, whose party underwent a split earlier this month with the rebellion of nephew Ajit Pawar, had joined the meeting besides former Maharashtra chief minister and Shiv Sena UBT leader Uddhav Thackeray.

The Congress and other allies claimed that the opposition unity had rattled the BJP, which panicked and hurriedly convened a meeting of the NDA on the same day in New Delhi to show that the ruling alliance was intact and had more members, 38 to be precise, than INDIA.

The INDIA leaders alleged that the BJP had ignored the NDA over the past many years but suddenly started talking about the ruling alliance to put up a brave face.

PM Modi described the new alliance as a coming together of the parties that were facing corruption charges. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attacked the PM saying he had levelled false charges on senior opposition leaders who had been raising people’s issues for decades.

Kharge announced that after the 26 parties agreed on a name for the opposition alliance, they would hold the next meeting in Mumbai where the key panels like the 11-member coordination committee would be set up besides specific committees for planning joint nationwide agitations, a common minimum program and seat-sharing.

INDIA Alliance

The Bengaluru meeting also decided to set up a secretariat in Delhi to coordinate the nationwide campaign of INDIA for which senior leaders would identify the issues.

The presence of Sonia Gandhi, who successfully forged and steered the United Progressive Alliance from 2004 to 2014, at the Bengaluru opposition meeting certainly helped rope in TMC boss and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

In her capacity as the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, it was Sonia Gandhi again who cleared the way for the grand old party Congress to publicly state that it will oppose the controversial Delhi ordinance during the monsoon session of Parliament starting on July 20.

The presence of Kharge, who had been leading 19 like-minded opposition parties in the parliament, helped the grand old party increase the number of partners from 16 at the June 23 opposition meeting in Patna (hosted by JD-U leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar) to 26 at the Bengaluru conclave hosted by the Congress.

Not only this, the Congress was able to pull SP leader and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav who had travelled to Hyderabad after the Patna meeting to hold parleys with BRS leader and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.

The organizational skills of Karnataka state unit chief and deputy chief minister DK Shiv Kumar helped the grand old party to successfully pull off a mega opposition conclave. While all the guests were impressed with the arrangements at the meeting venue Hotel Taj West End, particularly by the way DKS personally received all of them, both Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal made it a point to thank the Congress for hosting the strategy session.

 Key step

The opposition meeting was hosted by the Congress at a carefully chosen spot. The Congress victory in the recent Karnataka assembly election has not only galvanised the opposition, but also placed the party in a commanding position. Congress chief Kharge described the new alliance as a key step ahead of 2024 polls.

 “This is a very important meeting for the purpose of saving the democracy and Constitution and in the interest of the people of this country, we have come together, discussed various points and with one voice, people supported the resolution. I am thankful to all the leaders who have come here from various 26 parties. They gave very good suggestions and particularly today’s situation… that the BJP government wants to destroy the democracy in this country and also, they want to destroy the Constitution. They are using the autonomous bodies like CBI, ED and Vigilance… all such institutions they are using against Opposition party leaders and their workers,” said Kharge.

“Therefore, there is a grave situation… so we have come together, and the country is important for us. Though we have got some differences in each state politically but that is why, we have kept that behind… not in front. In the front is only how to save the country and people of this country… that is the issue before us and our leaders have shown that we should be together in the interest of the country, and they gave many suggestions and we have accepted and we will continue to follow it,” he said.

Kharge pointed out that the BJP was under pressure over the opposition unity.

“After seeing everything, now Modi Ji is calling an NDA meeting with 30 parties. I don’t know where 30 parties are there… whether they are registered parties with Election Commission or not…. because I am also in the Parliament, in the Rajya Sabha, here also…. I have not heard of so many parties in India, and that too 30 parties with NDA. They are also holding meetings and earlier, they never cared even about their own alliance, they never used to even talk to them. Many people left but one by one, he is calling and they are meeting and their party president is also going to each state and within one party, several divisions were there. He is doing it now, so it means that he is now afraid of opposition parties… otherwise there was no necessity for him, he never bothered… this is one thing,” he said.

The Congress chief said the opposition leaders had not come together for power or post.

“Our people gathered here not to become something… they want to save democracy and the Constitution and to fight against unemployment, inflation…. so many issues are there…. all those issues in the interest of the country, we will take and we will fight. Now, our aim will be to take important issues one-by-one and we will highlight… we will move throughout the states, entire country with all these issues and also highlight the failure of the government,” he said.

“When some proposal came for keeping the name and other things, I was happy everybody… Rahul Gandhi Ji, Mamata Banerjee and everybody… those who are sitting here… they all agreed. This is the first achievement of our alliance… agreeing for the name. And friends, I don’t want to take much of your time today. We are facing many issues including media also… because all media are captured by PM Modi and without their signal, nobody moves. I have seen it because of the many meetings I have conducted… I have seen and even earlier in my 52 years of political active life, I have not seen such hostile information against us or against the Opposition parties and suppressing the Opposition leaders. So, anyway we have to fight… we will fight and we will move together and I hope we will succeed in this. All youngsters, farmers, MSME people…. everybody is fed-up with freedom of speech and everything,” he said.

“So, this is the situation… we have to come out from this and 2024 election we will fight unitedly and we will come out with great success.

 INDIA leaders slam NDA

“NDA, BJP, can you challenge INDIA?” Mamata Banerjee said after the Bengaluru meeting “We love our motherland. We are the patriotic people of the country. We are for the country, the world, farmers, for all,” she said, adding that people — Hindus, Dalits, minorities, farmers, in Bengal, and Manipur — are under threat from the BJP, whose only job is “buying and selling governments,” she said.

 “There is a fear in people’s minds about what will happen next… So, we want to assure them that don’t worry, we are here. Just one person or one party cannot be the country, all people are the country,” said Thackeray.

“We have gathered here…to save the country from hatred. PM Modi ruined everything in 9 years,” said Kejriwal.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said the 2024 polls would be a fight between INDIA and PM Modi.

“The idea of India is being attacked today… it is being attacked by the ideology of the BJP. The wealth of India is being snatched from the millions and millions of Indians and being handed over to a few business people, who are close to the Prime Minister and to the BJP. Unemployment is spreading, prices are rising, and this is what the fight is about. The fight is about two different ideas of India, and while we were having this discussion… This name frankly emerged from the discussion because we asked ourselves what is the fight… who is the fight between and we realised that the fight is not between two political formations… the fight is to defend the idea of India. We are defending the Indian Constitution, we are defending the voice of the Indian people, we are defending the idea of our great country… the idea of India,” he said.

“You know what happens to anybody who opposes or tries to fight the idea of India. You can look in our history and you will see that nobody has been able to fight the idea of India. So, I don’t need to go into who is going to win this fight. This is a fight between the idea of India and the idea of the BJP… this is a fight between INDIA and the BJP… it is a fight between INDIA and Mr. Narendra Modi,”  he said.

 Cong denies rift

The Congress rejected reports of a rift in the new opposition alliance and said that Team INDIA was united.

“We are all one. There are no differences in Team INDIA. Our slogan is ‘Jeetega Bharat’. Those who question Team INDIA are the ones who want to divide Bharat through words,” Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said when asked if Bihar chief minister and JD-U leader Nitish Kumar was miffed over the new alliance name.

“The BJP has been using foul language against Nitish Babu…Now they are spreading rumours. However hard Modiji tries, there are no cracks in the Team INDIA. The BJP can go on with its conspiracy theories,” he said.

Nitish Kumar later clarified that he had left soon after the Bengaluru meeting as he had to reach Rajgir in Bihar for a scheduled event.

Surjewala, who is in charge of Karnataka where the new opposition alliance name INDIA was finalized on Tuesday by 26 parties, said “The focus of the new alliance is on the issues affecting the people and the fight of the new grouping is to bring about a change of guard.”

According to the AICC functionary, the NDA meeting on July 18 was a panic reaction to the opposition coming together.

“I want to ask, where was this NDA over the past 9 years. First, they used to say one is enough for all others. Suddenly, they panicked and started talking about the NDA. Suddenly they arranged 38 parties, many of whom are not even registered with the Election Commission. Only 12 parties have MPs and only two parties have more than 2 MPs. It is like throwing an open invitation to people to just form a party and join the NDA,” said Surjewala.

The Congress leader slammed Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for questioning the new alliance name INDIA and saying it showed a colonial influence over the opposition parties.

“Himanta Biswa Sarma is trying to be more loyal than the king. He was in the Congress for around 30 years then he left. Now he needs to prove his loyalty to the BJP,” said Surjewala.

The Congress leader acknowledged that there would be some confrontation among the partners who are rivals in states and the new alliance would have to sort out the differences.

“There would be some political and ideological differences in the new alliance. You will have to work out those differences. This alliance is not for power, we have brought forward a constructive agenda for the country,” said Surjewala, when asked that the West Bengal Congress leaders were reportedly upset over TMC being a part of the new grouping.

The Congress leader urged BSP leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati to ‘introspect” and “review” her policies after she said that her party would fight the coming assembly polls alone and will have no truck with any party.

“She is not a part of Team INDIA but she is a very senior leader of the country. I would not like to react to what she has said but I would urge her to introspect and review her policies,” said Surjewala.