'Thank you PM Modi, for acting as our publicity officer’

From Tamil to Telugu to English to Hindi and Marathi, India’s multilingual and multicultural diversity was on full display at the third INDIA meet

I.N.D.I.A members' conference (photo: AICC)
I.N.D.I.A members' conference (photo: AICC)

Sujata Anandan

For all that the BJP ecosystem has been eagerly awaiting the collapse of the INDIA alliance over seat sharing or a dispute over who the face of the Lok Sabha 2024 elections will be, the two-day Mumbai meet of the opposition bloc ended with a lot of camaraderie, stepping back by the seniors, and recognition of the potential of younger leaders.

Two things were clear — INDIA leaders are not taking anything for granted, including the possibility of early polls, and have smoothly set up several coordination committees that will look into all aspects of the alliance's future, including state-specific seat sharing among the various parties that will maximise all their chances of defeating the BJP.

As Rahul Gandhi said at their joint press conference, the leaders on the stage represented 60 per cent of the people of India, and with them sticking together, it would be impossible for the BJP to win the next elections. 

Almost all the 28 parties present in Mumbai are represented on various committees which will look at campaign strategies, media, social media, and a good deal of research.

The BJP has been mocking the INDIA bloc over the past few days — at the ambitions of all their leaders who allegedly wish to become prime minister. But the parties turned that criticism on its head, saying that while they had many viable options, the BJP was stuck with just one — and should anyone in the NDA camp express such an ambition, their political career would be "shot to pieces the next day".

But it is what Rahul Gandhi said that gave a fresh perspective to what might be seen as a top-heavy alliance with at least six sitting chief ministers and a few more former chief ministers in their ranks, all of who could well think he or she deserved the job. “It is remarkable how far the leaders were willing to go to accommodate each other and iron out their differences,” he said. 

Even at the press conference, it was obvious they were all stepping back and stepping aside for each other. Rahul himself gave top billing to Sharad Pawar, who closed the meet by resolving to send the BJP packing and making sure that "not just INDIA but also Indians" won the next elections. If there were any doubts about his integrity in view of his nephew’s recent shenanigans, there was no evidence of it in the cordiality with which they dealt with each other, and Pawar now seems firmly rooted in the alliance.

Given that he is being badgered by all rebel NCP leaders, including his nephew Ajit Pawar, as an "old man" whose era is past, touchingly, we found Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge coming to the 82-year-old leader's aid.

“I think after Pawar saheb, I must be the most senior leader on this stage and in active politics. I have 52 straight years in electoral politics (Pawar has 56). The only difference between us is that I was never a chief minister (Pawar is a four-term CM of Maharashtra).”

The underlying nuance clearly was, if 81-year-old Kharge could be an active elected president of Congress and lead his party to victory, why couldn’t Pawar, and why was he being regarded as past his prime?

Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal, Lalu Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, all stressed on unity, cohesion and their ability to deliver a winning formula to the people in a few weeks. But the pièce de resistance of the meet was Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin, who rose to confidently address the media in Tamil, the only leader who used a language that reporters in Mumbai may not all be conversant with. But it was a stressing of the diversity of India and the media heard him out patiently without protest as he foresaw the "end of fascist forces in 2024".

Stalin also had a tongue-in-cheek barb for PM Narendra Modi. He said, “During the first meet, 19 parties came together to bring BJP down. With the second meeting at Bengaluru, we named it INDIA and started the journey. During the third meeting in Mumbai now, we are proving that we are a strong alliance.

"You all are aware of how BJP functions. PM Modi, wherever he goes, whether it is a government-related event or a party event, is unable to speak about the achievements of the last nine years. The PM rather speaks about the INDIA alliance. He is acting as our ‘publicity officer’. I thank him for that.”

Following him, Yechury offered to speak in his mother tongue Telugu but chose English instead. Rahul, in his usual style, spoke both in English and Hindi, Uddhav Thackeray in Marathi and Hindi — India’s multilingual and multicultural diversity was on full display at the meet. 

The gauntlet has been thrown. The BJP needs must go back to the drawing board, but with more regional parties slated to join the alliance, it might be a difficult challenge.

And while there was no formal unveiling of the INDIA logo, the parties have decided to go with the 'Judega Bharat, Jeetega INDIA' slogan, to be translated into all languages. A partially done logo was, however, displayed with two partial circles containing portraits of all INDIA leaders, which may be dropped as and when more leaders join in.

The half-circles are in saffron and green, with 'Bolta India' printed on top and below. Sources say I and N may, in later days, be made saffron with I and A in green. The D could be blue with its half circle left white, thus accommodating all the colours of the Indian flag.

Along with a picture of Bharat Mata carrying a copy of the Constitution stood at the entrance to the meeting venue for two days, the INDIA bloc is clearly not allowing the BJP to claim ownership of any national symbols or colours.

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