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New Seat Sharing Deals Drive the INDIA Bloc Ahead in the War of Perceptions

The INDIA parties have succeeded in creating the perception that they won't show each other their backs on the electoral battlefield and will fight with whatever they have till the end.
AAP and Congress announce seat-sharing deal at the INDIA alliance press conference, on February 24, 2024, in New Delhi. Photo: X@AamAadmiParty

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – armed with an unparalleled control over the instruments of communication – tried to create the perception that Nitish Kumar’s switcheroo had caused an irreparable blow to the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

The flight of the Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary in Uttar Pradesh and former chief minister Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra to the Hindutva fold further stoked the perception that the opposition had lost whatever chances it had to fight the BJP’s electoral war machine.

Hyper-active against the BJP’s political opponents and zealously protective of tainted politicians jumping ship to the saffron camp, the Union government’s investigating agencies arrested Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren, cracked down on former Jammu and Kashmir governor Satyapal Malik and served back-to-back summons on Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Bihar leader of opposition, Tejashwi Yadav.

But be it their political diligence or their collective will to defeat the BJP, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which looked like they were drifting away from the Congress, swung into action, striking alliance on a plethora of seats in crucial Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh besides Gujarat, Haryana, Goa and Chandigarh with the grand old party.

Within a month of Nitish Kumar and Jayant Chaudhary’s somersaults –  set against the background of the Narendra Modi government conferring the Bharat Ratna to two icons of the anti-Sangh parivar politics of the bygone era, Karpoori Thakur and Chaudhary Charan Singh – the table appears to have turned on what the Hindutva strategists might have calculated.

The INDIA parties have succeeded in creating the perception that they won’t show each other their backs on the electoral battlefield and will fight with whatever they have till the end. Braving the flames of the investigating agencies’ heat leaping up to him, the party of Arvind Kejriwal sealed the deal on seats in Delhi, Haryana, Chandigarh and Gujarat.

The Congress’s decision to leave the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat – which Ahmad Patel represented and which he vacated for Indira Gandhi – for the AAP is of high-octane symbolic value. 

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh used this seat – with the numerical preponderance of its Muslims – as the first Hindutva laboratory, which eventually took all of Gujarat in its thrall. The BJP wrested what was once the bastion of the Congress in 1989 and has been winning it since then.

With the sharing of seats happening against the BJP’s expectations and occupying the media space and popular discourse, the INDIA parties appear to have gone ahead of the saffron outfit, at least in the war of perception.

Simultaneously, the developments have created a doubt in the mind of the ruling regime, which looks like it is reacting in a knee-jerk fashion against its opponents.

How the alliance gained perception victory in Bihar

It all started in Bihar. The Bihar chief minister, who had projected himself as a sutradhar (architect) of the opposition’s unity, timed his departure to the BJP with Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra entering Bihar through Kishanganj and Purnea, providing the Hindutva party with a potent weapon to hit the doddering INDIA bloc.

Tejashwi Yadav lost power as the deputy chief minister and his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) – the largest party in the state – was driven out to the opposition benches in no time after Nitish resigned as Mahagathbandhan CM to take oath as NDA CM on the same day on January 28.

Then, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) followed up on the developments the very next day by serving a summons notice on the embattled son of Lalu Prasad Yadav in the so-called land-for-jobs case.

However, Tejashwi appeared to have handled all the attacks on his party with calm and ease.

First, he disarmed Nitish by his measured speech in the assembly on the confidence motion and then joined Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra at Sasaram.

Tejashwi Yadav and Rahul Gandhi in Bihar for Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra. Photo: X@yadavtejashwi

Tejashwi drove a jeep with Rahul in the side seat and launched a frontal attack on the prime minister for his “reneging on his promises to the people”. In the process, he showcased how he got a “tired” CM (Nitish) to give over four lakh jobs and 65 reservations in jobs to the backward classes.

Subsequently, Tejashwi fanned out in the state on the Jan Vishwas Yatra, pulling a responsive crowd and focusing on employment, livelihood, rights of the weaker sections and youth, poverty, agriculture, health, deprivation and other issues concerning the people.

Tejashwi’s positivity ‘spills over’ to SP, AAP?

Tejashwi’s “positivity” even in the face of the dice loaded against him probably inspired the scion of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav, in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Putting behind the ‘blow’ that the BJP had dealt to him by poaching Jayant Chaudhary, Akhilesh moved on to sealing a deal with the Congress. The SP got the Madhya Pradesh’s Khajuraho seat in its share and spared 17 seats for the Congress in the most populous state, injecting much needed confidence among the anti-BJP voters in UP.

And refusing to be cowed down by the investigating agencies’ relentless tirade on him and his party leaders, Arvind Kejriwal operated swiftly by sealing a deal with the Congress, importantly in Delhi, on which Union home minister Amit Shah had expressed his doubts.

Perception ‘war’ now includes former J&K governor Satyapal Malik

Making his debut in parliamentary politics by getting elected as a Congress MLA from his home seat of Baghpat in 1974 and  going on to occupy the offices of a Union minister and governor of three states, Satyapal Malik has largely enjoyed a clean image in about 50 years of his public life. 

However, he earned the wrath of the ruling regime after alleging the Narendra Modi government’s mishandling of the tragedy in Pulwama.

Now, the CBI and ED have turned up the heat on him, charging him with cases of corruption and carrying out raids on his establishments.

Will the action of the investigating agencies change the people’s perception about Satyapal Malik as an honest leader? Will the BJP have a cakewalk, winning 375 to 400 seats in the 2024 polls as claimed by Narendra Modi and his party?

Only the results of the 2024 elections can answer these questions, but the INDIA bloc and its pro-democracy political rhetoric seems to be matching the Hindutva zeal of the BJP, at least as of now.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author, media educator, and independent researcher in folklore.

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