Executive Director, C Voter Foundation
Many, many years ago, the author and a few friends had gone to a well-known restaurant in Delhi for a few beers and lunch. Though spacious, the place appeared to be crowded and noisy. Then, as we easily fond a table, we realised it was more noisy than crowded. About a dozen ladies glittering with diamonds were busy with their kitty party. This is not an uncommon sight in Delhi so we didn’t pay much attention, busy checking out the menus for what to order. Every now and then, there would be peals of raucous and hysterical laughter would break out as some lady described some peculiar habit of her husband; or a discreet affair that she was having. All of a sudden, the laughter gave way to angry exchanges as some of the ladies got into a cat fight. Within minutes, the bonhomie disappeared, and some started pointing out the “aukat” of some others. I have no doubt, some hair pulling, and slaps would have been the next step but the “veterans” stepped in and restored a semblance of sanity and amity. We, of course, watched all this with bemused expressions.
When I saw the TMC leader say in front of TV cameras that the CPI(M) has no “aukat” to even share a table with the TMC, I was elided of that kitty party. The ladies in that party all swore they were bosom friends; as sisters who care for and look after each other. But scratch the surface and near brawls loaded with abuses became inevitable. Is the status of the I.N.D.I.A partners any different? On paper, they are all forged in an alliance of steel with a single-minded purpose. They are convinced Narendra Modi is a fascist authoritarian who is bent upon destroying democracy and all institutions in India. So it is their beholden duty to come together and defeat him in the 2024 elections. When the alliance was formed with grand promises and triumphant group photos a few months ago, there was this buzz about burying egos and ambitions for the larger good. The target: put up joint opposition candidates against the BJP in about 400 Lok Sabha seats. On paper, the idea looked great because out of 543 seats, the BJP is anyway a non-entity in about 150 seats. Political pundits sang praises and the I.N.D.I.A leaders preened. Despite getting a shock from the BJP in assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, the alliance partners met in Delhi and made a solemn promise to finalise all seat adjustments by the end of 2023.
Forget finalising, they have become a joke. In West Bengal, TMC supreemo Mamata Bannerjee proclaims that she is with the INDIA bloc in rest of India but is is TMC alone which will has the capacity to “teach a lesson” to the BJP in West Bengal. In other words, she is not willing to give any seats to either the Left or the Congress. TMC leader Kunal Ghosh calls the Congress the B Team of BJP. Congress leaderAdhir Ranjan Chaudhury says to hell with everything, and his party will fight in all seats. Communist leaders insist Mamata Didi is being sponsored by the RSS! It does look as if seat sharing in any of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state looks doubtful at the moment. Maharashtra with 48 Lok Sabha seats looks like an even bigger mess for I.N.D.I.A. The Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena insists it will contest 23 seats and nothing less. The Congress says it will contest in at least 27 seats and nothing less. That is already 50 seats and you still have the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP and some smaller “secular” parties. Predictably, Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress and Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena have been busy hurling verbal missiles at each other.
It is the same all over the place. In Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav of the SP says he might consider leaving 2 out of 80 seats for the Congress to contest. In Punjab and Delhi, leaders of the Congress and AAP are at each others throats claiming a lion’s share of seats to contest. Punjab, in any case, is one of the states where the BJP is a marginal player. Down south in Tamil Nadu, DMK leaders seem determined to make offensive remarks against Hindu religion that will badly hurt their partner Congress in north India. They couldn’t care less. In Kerala, the local police suddenly lathi charges a crowd of Congress demonstrators. Shashi Tharoor calls the Left government led by Pinnari Vijayan a fascist regime. The Indian Union Muslim League in the state, a Congress ally, has some leaders say that the Congress will face grave consequences if it attends the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22.
It is possible, these parties might work out a comprise formula on seat sharing in the near future. But do you think the ordinary Indian voter will consider them as a serious and viable alternative at the moment to a Narendra Modi led BJP? I don’t because they are behaving like the kitty party ladies.