ON THE EVENING OF 10 DECEMBER 2018, a day before the results of assembly elections in five states were announced, India’s biggest opposition leaders began trickling into the Parliament House Annexe in Delhi. The politicians in attendance included Sonia and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, among others. While some of these leaders are sworn political adversaries, they had been brought together for a common cause—dethroning the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The tension in the room was palpable. The organisers—the meeting was coordinated by Naidu—had not realised that Yechury and Banerjee could not be seen sitting next to each other, given the bitter rivalry between their parties in West Bengal. The arrangement was quietly changed and the Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar was placed between them. However, the two multilingual rivals did exchange icy greetings in Bangla. “Kamon achhen”—how are you, Mamata asked; “Bhalo achhi”—I am fine, Yechury replied.
Representatives from the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were notably absent from the meeting. According to a senior communist leader who did not want to be named, the two Uttar Pradesh parties do not want to be seen working under Congress leadership. After the election results the next day, however, the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav tweeted in support of the coalition.
“Our purpose and goal is clear at the moment,” Akhilesh told me in an email interview on 20 December, “that we fight for the future of the country. Egos, personal ambition and short-term political benefits will all have to be weighed against what is in the national interest.”