The Opposition bloc INDIA's Coordination Committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday and discussions on seat-sharing and election campaigns are on the agenda.
The Coordination Committee is the apex decision-making body of the bloc and comprises senior INDIA coalition leaders like Sharad Pawar of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), KC Venugopal of Congress, and Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray faction are part of the committee.
The INDIA's Coordination Committee's meeting is scheduled to take place at the residence of NCP President Pawar in Delhi.
The INDIA bloc's meeting comes days after the bloc got energised by the victories in the seven bypolls held earlier this month. In bypolls on seven assembly seats in six states, the INDIA bloc constituents won on four seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on three.
Earlier in July, 28 Opposition parties came together to form the alliance Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) with the idea of converging all non-BJP voters to put up a united front against the BJP. The goal of the Opposition is to field joint-candidates against BJP to maximise chances of victories and minimise the break-up of non-BJP voters. The bloc was formally announced after Opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar criss-crossed the country to hold a series of meetings with Opposition figures.
Since the formation of the bloc, the bloc's leaders have met in Mumbai and have announced Campaign Committee and and three working groups in addition to the Coordination Committee. While the bloc projects unity, there is no clarity on the prime ministerial candidate, seat-sharing arrangement, or a common programme.
Seat-sharing arrangement, campaign on agenda
The Opposition bloc INDIA's Coordination Committee is understood to discuss seat-sharing and election campaigning in the meeting on Wednesday.
Manoj Jha, MP from INDIA constituent Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), said that what programmes have to be held during the campaigns and where they would be held would be discussed in the meeting.
"The meeting of the 13th is important, meetings of the different sub-groups have been held, like the social media committee, campaign committee, research committee, all have held their meetings. The deliberations held in these meetings will get a stamp of approval. A final shape will be given to the agenda, what would be the programmes, where the campaigns will be held, it will all be deliberated upon," said Jha, a member of INDIA bloc's Working Group for Media.
IANS reported that discussions on seat-sharing, which have not taken place so far, are also going to figure in the talks.
"The source said that the discussion for seat sharing in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states will be on the agenda of the leaders. The source said that a detailed discussion will take place on the number of seats the parties want to contest in these states. The source said that discussion on seat sharing in Maharashtra, West Bengal will also come up for discussion," reported IANS.
Earlier this year, before the announcement of the INDIA bloc's formation, Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had outlined the approach to seat-sharing.
Citing several examples, such as of Samajwadi Party (SP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in UP, Congress-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand, and Congress-DMK in Tamil Nadu, Mamata said that the Opposition should support a party wherever it is strong. However, she also said that while she supports Congress in Karnataka and elsewhere wherever it’s strong, the Congress too should extend similar support to other regional parties.
"In this situation, Whoever is strong in some place, in their region, they should fight together. Let's take Bengal. In Bengal, we [Trinamool] should fight. In Delhi, AAP should fight. In Bihar, they are together. Nitishji [JD-U], Tejashwi [RJD], and Congress are together. They will decide. I cannot decide on their formula. In Chennai, they [DMK and Congress] have a friendship and they can fight together. In Jharkhand also, they [JMM-Congress] are together and in other states also. So it is their choice," said Mamata.
Mamata also said that Congress is strong in around 200 seats and she would support the party in those seats.
INDIA bloc energised by bypoll victories
The INDIA bloc constituents won four of the seven bypolls earlier this month.
RJD MP Jha said said the results show that a narrative is already being built in favour of the Opposition bloc.
Jha told PTI, "Usually we don't give so much importance to bypoll results, but this time, on one side is a party which has so much resources and power, on the other hand, the opposition parties have a serious lack of resources. The results show that you can't buy everything by using power and money...A narrative has been built by these results, even the one seat that the Congress lost —Bageshwar— the margin is very small. It is nothing if you look at the previous results in Uttarakhand."
However, even as the Opposition celebrates BJP's defeat on four seats, cracks in the Opposition unity were also at display during the bypolls as constituent parties Trinamool Congress (TMC), Congress, the Left, and Samajwadi Parties (SP) were contesting against each other on seats in West Bengal, Kerala, and Uttarakhand and coult not unite behind a single candidate.
Such internal friction is among the outstanding issues that the bloc is working to iron out and minimise. Other outstanding issues include seat-sharing and the 'face' or the leader of the bloc who is likely to be the prime ministerial candidate of the bloc. Throughout the past one year, supporters of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor Arvind Kejriwal have publicly called for their nomination as the bloc's leader. Names of Mamata and Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin have also done rounds at times.
Ahead of the Coordination Committee's meeting, RJD's Jha dismissed the talks over the face of the bloc.
"The discussions on a 'face' is an attribute of neo-liberal characteristics of the market and its influence on politics. There was no face in 1977, voices were raised against autocracy, J P (Narayan) was the leader but he did not become the prime minister, Morarji Desai became the PM," said Jha to PTI.
Jha further gave the example of 2004 and said that while then-Opposition bloc had no face, it formed government under the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) banner and Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister.
"In 2004, the Shining India campaign fell apart... Was there any PM name, but we got Manmohan Singh who led the nation for 10 years, and gave one of the best governments... I often say you are not buying shampoo or soap. On one hand there is a party, where no one can speak against the prime minister, is this a good system? Or the system that the opposition is proposing - a first among equals kind of system is better? We are bringing a progressive alternative for the people," said Jha