By G Krishna Mohan Rao*
Mumbai: Even as the Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) supremo Nitish Kumar was almost a unanimous choice as convenor of INDIA, the West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee vetoed his candidature at the two-day Opposition-led Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) meet that concluded here on September 1, 2023.
Mamata’s rigid stand stopped his selection and she also strongly opposed Kumar’s caste-based census, which was also a more or less consensus choice of the INDIA partners.
As a result of her protest, the convenor’s post was put on hold, but Mamata’s objection to a caste census was not taken kindly by many leaders who felt that her position was not in tune with the overall direction of the INDIA partners. In northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, caste politics are rampant and there is no dispute about this. Political parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the JD-U and even the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) in the south have been campaigning for a caste census. Even the Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi also publicly supported the idea.
Sources said that Mamata expressed dissatisfaction with the long speeches that some Left leaders delivered at the INDIA conclave. if the Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal could conclude his speech in 20 minutes, why should the left leaders go on and on, she argued. She herself spoke only for a few minutes, outlining the need for speed in working out seat shares.
Sources said that on the second day of the conclave, the Mamata-led TMC got isolated. Soon after the meeting Mamata and her nephew and Lok Sabha member Abhishek Banerjee left for the airport without attending the joint press meet. Sources said that at the meeting, Abhishek and Derek O Brian of the TMC argued with other parties that the most pressing issue before the parties was seat sharing and that should be taken up first. However this was contested and opposed by many, sources said.
Meanwhile, top sources indicated that the INDIA convenor issue would be resolved soon. On both days, at the Mumbai meet, leaders stressed that personal and political differences should be overcome at all costs to save the country from “Dictatorship”. Sources said there was unanimity among the leaders that the continuation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi would result in the destruction of democracy in the country.
By and large, the third meeting of the INDIA alliance ended yesterday with leaders of 28 opposition parties resolving to collectively take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in next year’s general election and forming a coordination committee to conclude seat-sharing arrangements at the earliest. It has been decided that the next meeting of the alliance would be held in New Delhi. They also decided to launch a nationwide campaign against the Modi government’s misrule with the common slogan of “Judega Bharat, Jeetega INDIA”.
In a show of unity after the two-day session, leaders of most of the 28 parties addressed a joint news conference. Mamata Bannerjee could not attend it. A 14-member coordination committee had been formed and tasked with working out a seat-sharing formula. The issue of “one nation, one election” favoured by Modi, was discussed. It was agreed to take this up together at the special five-day Parliament Session beginning on September 18, 2023.
The 14-member coordination and election strategy committee includes members of the leading parties of the alliance. It comprises K C Venugopal (Congress), Sharad Pawar (Nationalist Congress Party); TR Balu (DMK); Hemant Soren (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha); Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena); Tejashwi Yadav (RJD); Abhisked Bannerjee (TMC); Raghav Chaddha (AAP); Javed Ali Khan (SP_; Lallan Singh (JD-U); D Raja (Communist Party of India); Omar Abdullah (Jammu & Kashmir National Conference); Mehbooba Mufti (Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party); the Communist Party of India -Marxist which will name a member later.
Apart from the main committee, there will be four other committees— campaign committee, working groups for social media, media and research. All parties of the alliance have been given representation in these committees. The alliance did not unveil the logo which was in its programme schedule. A proposal by the TMC that the alliance should have a logo did not find favour with most parties. The idea was finally dropped, leaving the TMC a little unhappy.