The Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, a bloc of 28 parties that seeks to dislodge the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in 2024, appears unable to maintain a united front in the Assembly elections scheduled for November in five States. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, where the Congress is a key contender for power, no seat sharing with smaller constituents of the bloc has yet been announced. In Telangana, the Left, and in Madhya Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP), feel let down by the Congress. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has been scathing in his attack on the Congress. The Aam Aadmi Party has gone ahead with its own plans in the election-going States, while its relations with the Congress in Punjab and Delhi continue to plummet. INDIA had to give up plans for a joint rally twice — in Bhopal and in Nagpur. All this is indicative of the headwinds that INDIA faces in translating the common interest of its partners into seat sharing and a joint campaign. The problems of unity are structural and tactical. Most of the regional outfits were born out of antagonism to the Congress, and despite a current common adversary, the trust deficit is huge.
The internal dynamics within the Congress also create roadblocks to seat sharing. Rahul Gandhi and the central leadership of the party want to adopt a generous approach toward partners but State units in Madhya Pradesh and Telangana think otherwise. Meanwhile, the Congress in Rajasthan is also facing a challenge from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen which can capture a portion of its votes. Nationalist Congress Party veteran Sharad Pawar has suggested that INDIA partners should focus on the 2024 contest as varied situations make seat sharing difficult in regional elections. But the bad blood created in this election cycle could threaten unity efforts before 2024 too. The panels announced by the bloc at its Mumbai conclave in September to coordinate action on various fronts are stuttering. Constituents have diverging views on key issues being raised by the Congress such as crony capitalism of the BJP and caste census. The personal ambitions of leaders are also coming into play, a grim reminder of how coalition politics contributed to the ascent of majoritarianism, ahead of 2014. A front against the BJP will require a stronger Congress as its axis, and a deeper understanding and trust among its leaders that should also nudge them to look beyond their personal ambitions and outreach to parties such as the BSP which is currently not a part of the bloc. Antagonism to the BJP might be a glue, but a viable alternative will need a much more binding solution; it calls for a vision of nation-building.