The third meeting of parties under the banner INDIA — the Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance — in Mumbai last week resolved to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election together “as far as possible”. More than two dozen parties announced that seat-sharing arrangements in different States will be initiated immediately and concluded at the earliest in “a collaborative spirit of give and take”. Participants did not elect a convener or unveil a logo but announced five committees to improve coordination among them on various aspects. A 14-member coordination committee will double up as an election strategy committee, while the four other committees will coordinate campaign, social media, media and research. The INDIA bloc now plans to bring about a vision document which is likely to be released on October 2, Gandhi’s birth anniversary. Plans are afoot for five rallies in different parts of the country — Patna, Nagpur, Delhi, Chennai and Guwahati, and a regular meeting of the leaders. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has emerged as the centre of the unity efforts as he bonded with senior leaders of regional parties even at the cost of his own party’s local calculations. Mr. Gandhi is reportedly planning a second leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, this one along a horizontal route through the strongholds of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It is clear that these parties find common ground against the BJP, but that alone will not make INDIA a national alternative to the ruling party. Most INDIA parties have their interests defined by the local particularities of their respective regions. Assembly by-elections in West Bengal and Kerala this week are instructive. In West Bengal, the Congress and the Left are together in taking on the Trinamool Congress (TMC), while in Kerala, the Congress and the Left are face to face. The willingness of these parties to have a national plan in the larger interests of society might be appealing to some people, but to some others it could appear as hypocrisy. Optics apart, the coming together of parties will not necessarily lead to an aggregation of their votes, as some experiments of coalition politics have demonstrated. The differences among the parties on programmes and slogans are unsurprising, but the real challenge lies in winning the confidence of the people. INDIA will have to frame issues well and campaign effectively to emerge viable. The BJP is a dynamic and flexible party, despite its alleged ideological tenacity. It is responding to the INDIA challenge through political and administrative moves. Being opposed to the BJP cannot be the sole defining feature of INDIA.