Nine months ago, a warm handshake in the old Parliament building made heads turn. A bearded Rahul Gandhi smilingly asked CPIM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, “How are you, sir?” The CPIM boss gently patted his hand to counter the question, “How are you, boss?” The two shook hands that day like many teenagers do to express friendship.
This July, in Bengaluru, Rahul Gandhi came up with the acronym I.N.D.I.A (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) for the opposition bloc. Only a select few leaders were part of the consultation process, including CPIM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. Within an hour, the decision was made public. Four months later, the bloc first faced a litmus test in the Madhya Pradesh elections where Kamal Nath objected to a joint opposition rally.
Now, the I.N.D.I.A dream seems to be going up in flames in Rajasthan where the Congress is engaged in an acrimonious battle in Shri Dungargarh in Bikaner and Bhadra in Hanumangarh — both places where its I.N.D.I.A-ally CPIM renominated its sitting MLAs.
Balwan Poonia, a 40-year-old Left leader from the desert state, who made his way up by working in Student Federation of India (SFI), won in 2018 by receiving 81,655 votes, which is 41.22% of the total polled votes, while BJP’s Sanjeev Kumar secured 29% of the votes in Bhadra. This time around, the Congress has fielded Ajeet Beniwal, making it a three-way contest. “We prepared for a direct clash with the CPIM. But honestly, this triangular fight makes it easier for us but many of us were surprised given this is happening after the much talked about I.N.D.I.A-alliance,” said a BJP source.
In the 2018 Rajasthan elections, the CPIM had fielded candidates in 28 seats winning two seats — Bhadra and Shri Dungargarh. It finished second in two constituencies — Dhod and Raisingnagar. In September this year, CPIM wanted seat-sharing arrangements in the state where at least these four seats would go to them. The Congress dismissed their proposal.
What’s more? While speaking to News18, Beniwal accepts that he is facing “problems” during this electoral clash after hype of I.N.D.I.A talks on the national stage. “Of course, I am facing a problem. The CPIM candidate is going to Congress voters and asking them to vote for him claiming Congress and CPIM are together. He has told Congress voters that Dotasra (Rajasthan Congress President) is with him. Dikkat to hoga hi (there will be problems),” he tells News18.
In fact, Shri Dungargarh has become another bone of contention between the two I.N.D.I.A allies. Giridharilal Mahiya, the sitting MLA and CPIM candidate this time, comes from the agrarian movement background of the Left — All India Kisan Sabha. He won the last assembly elections by polling 72,376 votes, which was 41.4% of the total votes polled. In a repeat of Bhadra, Congress fielded its own candidate — Mangalaram Godara — from this seat. Tarachand Saraswat is the BJP’s candidate from here, making it a triangular fight. Last time, the Congress and the BJP candidates received 27% and 24% votes.
The CPIM is aware that the BJP has the advantage of riding on the anti-incumbency wave this time. Hence, they wanted to take advantage of the Congress vote bank to retain the seat, which did not happen. On the contrary, Mangalam flexed his muscles by organising a massive tractor rally with a “plan” to defeat both the BJP and the CPIM.
I.N.D.I.A. bloc has also been facing fractures elsewhere. As sources suggest, discord brewed between the JD-U and RJD over the allocation of Lok Sabha seats. Earlier, the tension rose within the bloc as Congress’s Uttar Pradesh unit head Ajay Rai asked the Samajwadi Party (SP) to withdraw from the Madhya Pradesh race in favour of the grand old party as the Akhilesh Yadav-led party did not have any base there, Rai said. The SP accused it of “betrayal”. Recently, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal claimed to have a bigger organisation than the Congress.
But the electoral clashes in these two seats in Rajasthan have seemingly made the opposition’s dream go up in flame.