As 26 opposition parties cleared their first hurdle of coming under a common banner, they brace for a bumpy road ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, from ironing out differences among constituents in states to seat sharing and choosing a leader for their INDIA alliance.
The alliance -- Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) -- has resolved to save the character of the republic 'being severely assaulted in a systematic manner by the Bharatiya Janata Party' and safeguard the idea of India as enshrined in the Constitution.
With challenges galore, sources said the leaders of these parties are looking forward at resolving them amicably as they all face the threat of turning irrelevant in case they fail to overcome them.
Though Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has admitted to differences within the alliance, he has urged all parties to set aside their conflicts for the sake of the country and its people, and move forward unitedly to take on their bigger common enemy, the BJP.
"There are some differences between us but we have put that behind... We are together in the interest of the country," Kharge had said at a press meet on Tuesday after the meeting of opposition parties in Bengaluru.
"We'll fight the 2024 Lok Sabha elections unitedly and succeed," he had asserted.
Asked about how the differences will be resolved, a senior opposition leader said that 'let us see how we move forward step by step'.
The leader hoped parties will be able to overcome differences and issues.
Another senior opposition leader said, "While the fact that we had 26 parties come together for a single agenda is in itself a success. However, it has thrown up new challenges. Arch rivals in states have to find ways to exist alongside one another."
The Congress and the Left are rivals in Kerala, the Left and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress in Punjab and Delhi, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, and the People's Democratic Party and the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir.
Many contentious issues remain unresolved but the first challenge before opposition alliance INDIA is that of resolving the leadership issue, sources said and added that the grouping may not announce their prime ministerial face ahead of the elections to avoid conflict among constituents.
They said it seems, opposition parties want to replicate the 2004 model when they had ousted the BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and announced their prime ministerial candidate later.
During the press meet, Congress president Kharge had also announced that an 11-member coordination committee will be set up and its composition will be finalised in the next meeting in Mumbai. But when asked about who would be the face of the alliance, he did not give a direct answer and said the coordination committee and a convenor will also be named.
On the convenor issue, sources said that Janata Dal-United leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and ally Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad were keen that a convenor should be named at the meeting itself and were reportedly miffed after it was not done.
They said that Prasad is keen on Kumar becoming the convenor of the alliance as it would clear the way for Tejashwi Yadav to succeed the JD-U leader in Bihar.
The alliance is also aiming at fielding common candidates in most Lok Sabha seats to put up a united fight against the BJP and ensure votes do not get divided, sources said and added that the crucial issue of selecting candidates is an uphill task, but it can be done.
While one section of the opposition wanted the issue of seat sharing out of the way before the alliance was concretised, another wanted to bring parties under one umbrella and seek a commitment from them on the matter.
Most opposition leaders are seasoned politicians and have immense experience, and they need to avoid one upmanship and clash of egos, another leader said.
Sources said one upmanship was evident in the second meeting here, particularly when finalising the name of the alliance. The first was in Patna on June 23.
TMC supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi suggested and agreed on the name INDIA for the alliance and most leaders concurred, they said.
Sources said CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury suggested 'We for India' while Bihar Chief Minister Kumar proposed 'India's Main Front'.
The original suggestion was to call it 'Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance', but the word 'democratic' was replaced with 'developmental' after Kumar and Yechury raised some objections saying it sounded too similar to the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), sources said.
They added that Prasad also made an oblique reference to some leaders of opposition parties making comments in public against each other and stressed that this needs to be avoided at all cost.
The onus of keeping everyone together lies with the Congress, which is in the centre of the opposition alliance and has high stakes in the upcoming elections.
Opposition unity will, however, be taken forward in the next few days when all parties meet every day and chalk out their common strategy to take on the BJP and move forward unitedly during the Monsoon Session of Parliament.