The alliance of about 150 alleged civil society movements and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), spearheaded by the jailed and bailed anti-Narmada activist Medha Patkar and another convict and social activist Teesta Setalwad to extend their support to the newly-formed India National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) bloc of 26 Opposition parties to take on Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2024 general elections, has become a laughable decision. It is no secret that ever since the NDA stormed into power, hundreds of NGOs that are working against the national interests were banned. Why they are supporting the I.N.D.I.A. bloc is understandable.Whether their decision to join the ranks of the parties, many of whose leaders are facing serious graft charges by Central agencies, will get people’s support is for them to ponder. While some leaders even served sentences and are on bail like Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and P Chidambaram of Congress, those on bail include the mother and son duo of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, besides several others. So, neither Medha Patkar nor Teesta Setalwad, joining the ranks of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc has not come as a surprise, simply because the Modi government has rooted out money made through corrupt means as it was using to carry out anti-India propaganda. While Medha Patkar shot into fame with her anti-dam project across the Narmada River in Gujarat and has some grudge against Modi, who was the Chief Minister then, Teesta Setalvad is accused of indulging in a larger conspiracy surrounding the 2002 Gujarat riots and purportedly making efforts to implicate Modi and other individuals in the riots. Thus far, the Indian electorate are not surprised at their joining the ‘Dukan’ of Opposition leaders, who were known as ‘Dalals’, and have suffered worse since 2014.
As a result, the parties became bankrupt and the NGOs’ foreign funding got plugged once and for all. And, the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, who was formed with the single agenda of protecting its leaders from pending cases, is scared that if Modi is allowed to continue in 2024, it may herald the end of Opposition and of those NGOs, which are indulged in anti-national activities with foreign funds. This was hinted by even the Trinamool Congress (TMC) founder and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when she said that the Indian Opposition parties can as well forget their role after 2024 if they can’t make an impact in the elections. What she meant was if the Opposition fail to get closer to the 200+ mark together, their very existence may become questionable. As of now, all these parties together have around 130 seats in the Lok Sabha and have to win another 70 and none of them are in a position to explain where they are going to get them. Already some reasonably big regional parties like the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) in Andhra Pradesh with 25 seats, and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha with around 18, besides the Bharat Rastra Samiti (BRS) in Telangana with around 9 MPs, are unwilling to join either of these two blocs. The BRS, however, has shown its intent to hobnob with the I.N.D.I.A. bloc in the monsoon session of Parliament to oppose the Delhi Ordinance and other Bills. The YSRCP and BJD, as usual, backed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA, to bail the latter out in crucial voting in the Rajya Sabha, where it still lacked a simple majority. Meanwhile, differences among the I.N.D.I.A. bloc have also widened ever since some senior Congress leaders like Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot declared Rahul Gandhi as the ‘Prime Ministerial face’ in the 2024 elections. This upset Janata Dal United (JDU) founder and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was already sulking following the Congress hijacking his initiative to unite the Opposition. So was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as its leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too nourishes Prime Ministerial ambitions. Not only these two parties, but even Mamata’s TMC, which is a major regional party in the bloc, also wants to see its leader as the Prime Ministerial candidate! Meanwhile, National Conference (NC) chief Farooq Abdullah proposed that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin too can be a possible PM-face.
The mute question is what if the Congress fails to retain its 58 Parliament seats in 2024 polls? However, as a respite to the Congress, some pollsters are giving it around 80-90 seats in the next year’s general elections. But the catch is the Congress’ showing in this year’s assembly elections in as many as five states, including its two ruling states – Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. The party’s prospects are good in these two states if not hoping to bag another state, Telangana, after its emphatic win in Karnataka. The Congress won another state recently – Himachal Pradesh. But, how far these assembly victories help it improve its Lok Sabha tally is difficult to answer. This was evident from the last Lok Sabha elections. Despite winning Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, two big states in the Hindi heartland, besides being a coalition partner with HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal Secular (JDS) in Karnataka, the Congress could not put up a better fight in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Against that backdrop, the party’s overall performance across the country depends on its new allies in the I.N.D.I.A. bloc like the TMC, DMK, and Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh. Mamata and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav made it abundantly clear that they may not accommodate the decaying Congress in their states, based on its dismissal performances in the past. Hence, the question is: How will the Congress improve its tally and emerge as the single largest party in the upcoming Lok Sabha?
On the other hand the BJP, which has expanded its alliance by roping in old partners like Shiromani Akali Dal (SKD) besides other small parties, managed to make NDA a 38-member group. The Modi government also looks more than confident to retain power in the 2024 elections. This was evident from the Prime Minister himself leading the fight against the I.N.D.I.A. bloc’s ‘no-confidence motion’ in Parliament declaring that the NDA is unstoppable. He repeated this at his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. The NDA’s confidence is borne out of its good work during the last nine years, which ensured India emerged as the fifth largest economy in the world, besides successfully handling the two-year Covid crisis and also helping as many as 64 nations with vaccines, reducing the numbers of below poverty line families, providing free monthly ration to 50 crore poor across the country or initiating other welfare schemes. Undoubtedly, it is riding high, barring the report over the alleged failure to spend funds allocated in the health sector judiciously. One wishes to sum up the I.N.D.I.A. bloc’s attitude towards national interest as nothing short of “Vinasa kaale viparitha buddhe’ jibe coined by great socialist leader Jaiprakash Narain against the erstwhile autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi. As if this was not enough, the Modi government’s latest decision to slash Rs 200 on household cooking gas cylinders appears to come as icing on the cake. And yet another similar proposal, that’s to reduce fuel prices to control the spiraling inflation, is effected it may indeed prove a blow to the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, which as of now looks unsustainable. And, the Opposition’s decision to oppose the ruling parties’ every initiative may boomerang on them and make the bloc even to retain the existing 130 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha impossible. It looks inevitable if the pre-poll surveys are any indication.