It wasn't too long ago that the Left-leaning intellectuals and some 'centrist' leaders like Rahul Gandhi talked about "two India" -- an 'India' shining for a select few and the 'Bharat' of the masses, afflicted by poverty and backwardness. When that "two India" theory drew criticism, it was buried.
The Sangh Parivar and its sympathisers loved to call our nation Bharat, while others preferred India.
It was significant that Rahul Gandhi named his recent countrywide campaign as the Bharat Jodo Yatra. It, therefore, sounded a bit ironic when the Congress-hosted 26-party conclave in Bengaluru named the alliance INDIA. The logic offered by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was that "India" resonated in all parts of the country. That was the origin of INDIA as an acronym for 'Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance'.
He perhaps didn't think of this counter-argument -- Did the ancient name Bharat not resonate in all parts of the country even after Rahul Gandhi's much-hyped Bharat Jodo Yatra?
And what happens in the summer of 2024, should the 26-party alliance lose the election and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP and NDA win, again? Going by the current popularity of PM Modi, it is a big possibility next year. Imagine then, how media, particularly the Western Media, would fancy a banner headline like - "Modi wins, INDIA loses". Will that look right?
For the Congress in the India Gandhi era, "India was Indira and Indira was India". Decades later, the Congress, in no position to put up a real electoral challenge, came up with the idea of a United Progressive Alliance with Sonia Gandhi as its chairperson. She was an extra-constitutional authority for 10 years of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, with great power and no responsibility. Even in parliamentary protocol she enjoyed special status as the UPA chairperson.
Ironically, in the presence of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress-hosted Bengaluru meet saw the burial of UPA. Gone is the primacy of the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family in alternate political formation. The nomenclature for the Opposition grouping, INDIA, was proposed by Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee at the meeting. It now transpires that the new nomenclature was brainchild of Rahul Gandhi with due deliberations with Mamata Banerjee, without taking into confidence a host of other leaders present there in the Bengaluru for the meeting.
Likes of Nitish Kumar, who was so far was acting on behalf of Congress party to reach out to leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal as chief architect of opposition unity, was taken by surprise when the name INDIA was proposed by the TMC chief. Nitish and some others opposed the idea but were overruled.
The next meeting of the INDIA alliance will be held in Mumbai and will be hosted by Uddhav Thackeray. The alliance will have a secretariat of its own with 11 steering committee members. All that is good but who will be convenor, if at all?
A Congress leader who attended the meeting told NDTV that the issue was not discussed in the meeting. He even pontificated on why a convenor was even needed. The issue was only in the media, it was a non-issue for them. Basically, the host is the convenor, wherever the meeting is held, like musical chairs.
Look at Nitish Kumar, who last month hosted the "first" opposition meet in Patna. His stamp was all over the meet. Yet at Bengaluru, no one was talking about him - not any party or the media - except for hoardings targeting him as "Unstable Prime Ministerial candidate" in parts of the city. He was not on the dais with some four dozen leaders in the combined press conference. No one cared to ask why he was not there. Nor did the leaders who addressed the media conference mention him. Though Kharge said some of our friends had to leave as they had earlier flights. What Kharge didn't tell was that most of his friends were flying in private chartered flights. Even otherwise they very well knew the schedule.
In politics, Charcha, Parcha aur Photoplays an important part in communicating a message to the public at large, and maintaining relevance. In contrast to Patna, where Nitish Kumar invited all leaders (where a sulking Arvind Kejriwal had left before start of press conference) to speak, in Bengaluru only Mallikarjun Kharge, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Uddhav Thackeray and Rahul Gandhi were invited to speak. The media was asked to pose questions only to Kharge, that too only four or five straight questions.
Their arguments and agenda revolved around five abstract philosophical concepts - 1. They have come together to save the country. 2. They have come together to save the people of this country. 3. They have come together to save the Constitution. 4. Modi has destroyed the country and has brought disrepute to the country. 5. They have to anticipate popular will and save the country from Modi's dictatorship.
They seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that in the last five years of the Modi regime, per the United Nation's Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), a tenth of the population or around 13.5 crore people have been brought out of poverty. There is a rising middle and neo-middle class, so is a young aspirational India. The opposition coalition INDIA has nothing to offer to them other than rhetoric.
In complete disregard to the wishes of Delhi, Punjab and West Bengal, the Congress leadership bent over backwards to accommodate the whims of Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee. Naturally, Mamata and Kejriwal, in comparison to all other leaders present, appeared buoyant.
If politics is a game of numbers, then consider this. Just as the INDIA meeting of 26 opposition parties ended, PM Modi led a 38-party NDA (National Democratic Alliance) meeting in the national capital, with the tagline "25 years of service".
Flashback to 2018. Almost the same number of opposition leaders gathered in Bengaluru for a show of strength and unity at the oath ceremony of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government.
The rest is history.
(Sanjay Singh is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.