Opposition vows to take on BJP unitedly in 2024; next meeting in Shimla to prepare common agenda

Patna: Rahul Gandhi suggests Opposition would have to break financial, institutional and constitutional monopoly of BJP to defeat them

BY and | Friday, 23 June, 2023
Meeting of Opposition party leaders at Patna, Bihar on 23 June 2023

Drawing the battle lines, opposition parties on Friday resolved to take on the BJP unitedly in 2024 Lok Sabha elections at a crucial meeting here, even as fissures emerged with the AAP asserting that it would be difficult for it to be part of any such gathering in future till the Congress publicly supports it on the ordinance issue.

At a joint press meeting, opposition parties said they would fight the polls on a common agenda and state-wise strategy, setting aside their differences with a flexible approach.

The plan of action is expected to be formulated at the second meeting to be chaired by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, tentatively on July 10 or 12, in Shimla.

“We will have to evolve separate plans for every state and we will work together to dethrone the BJP at the Centre,” Kharge said.

Launching a blistering attack on the BJP, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee claimed that if the “dictatorial government” at the Centre returns to power this time, there will be no elections in the future.

Over 32 leaders of more than a dozen political parties attended the meeting hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at his 1, Aney Marg residence here.

While Mayawati (BSP), Naveen Patnaik (BJD), K Chandrashekar Rao (BRS) and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy (YSRCP) were not invited, RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary did not attend the meeting due to a “predetermined family programme”.

There was lack of clarity on the exact number of parties that pledged to take on the BJP unitedly with leaders such as Nitish Kumar and Banerjee putting the number at 17 and some others like Yechury stating that 15 parties were there.

The BJP reacted strongly to the Opposition meeting, calling it a “multi-headed selfish alliance” and compared it with wolves hunting in packs.

Home Minister Amit Shah described the opposition unity meeting as a mere “photo session”.

Despite repeated assertions by the opposition parties that they were united, fissures in their ranks became apparent when AAP issued a statement after the meeting, claiming that the Congress has “refused” to publicly denounce the Centre’s ordinance on Delhi’s administrative services.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led outfit said that until the Congress publicly denounces the Centre’s ordinance on Delhi’s administrative services and declares that all 31 of its RS MPs will oppose the ordinance in the Rajya Sabha, it will be difficult for AAP to participate in future meetings of like-minded parties where the Congress is a participant.

The Congress’ silence raises suspicions about its real intentions, the AAP said in the statement.

West Bengal Chief Minister asked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal to sort out their issues on the Delhi Ordinance over a cup of tea and biscuits at a later date, reminding them that the Patna Opposition meeting was not the ideal forum for the discussion, sources said.

According to sources, Congress chief Kharge gave in-principle support on the issue, saying his party doesn’t support anything unconstitutional. The Congress has a set mechanism for taking up issues and an announcement on it will be done at a later date, he said.

Earlier, the Congress chief had said the party will take a decision before monsoon session of Parliament.

Sources said at no point Kejriwal threatened to walk out of the meeting.

In fact, all the opposition party members in attendance sided with the Congress and maintained that the Congress’ line on the issue was a “reasonable one”.

During the meeting, Rahul Gandhi said that he was attending the meeting with a clean slate “without any memory of past likes or dislikes with any of the parties in attendance”, according to sources.

He also said he and his party would do anything to keep the opposition parties together.

“We may have some differences but have decided to work together with flexibility and will work to protect our ideology,” Gandhi said and alleged that India’s foundations and institutions were being attacked.

The Congress leader also suggested that the Opposition would have to break the financial, institutional and constitutional monopoly of the BJP to defeat them.

Banerjee during her address said it was important for all parties to ensure support for the Congress wherever the party was the strongest.

During the meeting, RJD chief Lalu Prasad was given a rousing welcome by the opposition party leaders as he started his speech as the second speaker.

Yadav suggested that for the 2024 general election, the opposition fight should be led by the biggest party in each state and requesting the Congress to be generous in sharing seats.

Bihar Chief Minister, who was the first to speak, said that while 15 opposition parties were in attendance, at least 10 more will be joining the ranks soon.

Delhi CM Kejriwal said for the 2024 election, the motto should be “nation first, party second.”

He said when parties give up seats for their opposition partners, their victory should be a victory for the united front.

Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren (JMM), Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav, Maharashtra’s former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena-UBT), National Conference Leader Omar Abdullah and NCP president Sharad Pawar were also among the leaders who attended the nearly four-hours-long meeting.

Kumar (JD(U) and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), who hosted the meeting, as well as Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti, CPI general secretary D Raja, CPI (ML) leader Dipankar Bhattacharya and CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury were also present at the meeting and the joint presser.

However, Kejriwal and his Tamil Nadu counterpart M K Stalin did not participate in the press briefing. While Stalin had to catch a flight for prior commitments, Kejriwal not participating in the presser was not known.

Kumar, however, said both had to leave as they had to take their plane back home.

Speaking with reporters after reaching Chennai, Stalin said the meeting did not decide on fielding a common prime ministerial candidate but have resolved to consolidate all democratic forces to defeat the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

There have also been tensions between the Congress and the TMC over the Panchayat polls violence in West Bengal but they seemed to have taken a backseat Friday with Banerjee asserting that the Opposition has resolved to fight the BJP unitedly.

Banerjee said she had urged Kumar to organise the first meeting in Patna as “whatever starts from Patna, takes the shape of a people’s movement”.

She said there are three key takeaways from the meeting in Patna — the opposition is united, it will fight together and the fight is against the BJP’s “tyrannical rule and vendetta politics.”

“The BJP wants to change history but we’ll ensure that history is saved,” she said.

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar said just like the JP movement, “our united front will get the blessings of the public”.

“The message from the Patna meeting is clear for all of us that we need to work together to save the country,” said Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav who thanked all the leaders for making it to the meeting.

Jharkhand Chief Minister and JMM leader Soren said today’s beginning will prove to be a milestone for the country and all leaders will move together with positive thinking.

At the press conference, Uddhav Thackeray said, “we will stand against the tyrants”, referring to the BJP.

He said parties can have different ideologies and differences but they belong to one country and will work together to save the people from those in power currently.

On his part NC leader Omar Abdullah said parties from Kashmir to Kanyakumari have come together “not for power, but for principles and to save the Constitution”.

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said the main issue is to protect the character of our secular democratic country which the “BJP wants to change”.

CPI leader D Raja alleged that BJP’s nine-year rule has become “disastrous and detrimental” to the constitution of our country.

“We can’t let Gandhi’s India become Godse’s country,” PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti said after the meeting.

In the current Lok Sabha, the combined strength of these parties accounts for less than 200 of the 543 seats, though their leaders are hopeful of together turning the tables on the saffron party which enjoys a brute majority with a 300-plus tally.

The Congress, which is seen as the principal rival of BJP, had won 52 seats in 2019, a slight improvement over its 2014 performance when it won only 44 – an all-time low.

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