Ahead of next year’s general election, regional parties and political entities — currently not part of either the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance or the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance — have begun the process of trying to group together on the basis of issues that are on top of the mind for their prime movers.
If the lead was taken by the Left parties, the Janata Dal (United) and the Samajwadi Party, which together have, called a national anti-communalism convention here for October 30, a group of political activists associated with socialist leader George Fernandes, who have banded themselves as the Samata Manch, met at the Nehru Yuva Kendra here.
The Samata Manch’s objective is to build an anti-Congress platform.
Interestingly, the former BJP president Nitin Gadkari was the star speaker at the day-long meeting on Wednesday, and the press kit handed out contained a booklet on Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts and three DVDs relating to the BJP leader’s non-political work.
Mr. Gadkari spoke for close to 45 minutes, paying tribute to Mr. Fernandes, stressing that the secular-communal debate was dead, and thanking the Samata Manch for undertaking a “historic task.” There was no communal tension or incidents, Mr. Gadkari said, in the nine States in which the BJP was in power. Yes, there had been some communal incidents in Gujarat in 2002, but investigations were on, he recalled, while stressing that such incidents had taken place in non-BJP ruled States as well. He assured the Samata Manch that the BJP would help it in its mission of working for the rashtra hit (national welfare).
The other political party represented at the meeting was the Asom Gana Parishad: its nominee was Santanu Thakur. The former Speaker Purno Sangma, who now heads the National People’s Party, had also been invited but could not make it as he had another engagement, the organisers said. Over the next few months, the Samata Manch will organise rallies in all State capitals and invite all non-Congress parties, including the BJP.
In a resolution, the Samata Manch appealed to “all non-Congress leaders, including regional leaders to come on a platform and show the exit door to the Congress. The Congress is trying to break… the non-Congress unity by using the trap of secularism. The Congress is an authoritarian party and is intrinsically against federalism and regional aspirations. The Congress can neither defend the national interest nor can it address regional concerns.”
But if the Samata Manch’s target was the Congress, the target of the JD (U)- Left-SP grouping is the BJP. Accusing the BJP of harming Opposition unity on corruption, price rise and other issues, the former NDA ally, the JD (U), said it planned to bring non-Congress, non-BJP forces on one platform on October 30 “as an effective alternative” but shied away from calling it the Third Front. Representatives from Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal, JD(S) chief H.D. Deve Gowda, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (P) chief Babulal Marandi and members of the just formed front of north-eastern parties will attend the ‘Convention Against Communalism and For Unity of People.’
JD (U) president Sharad Yadav told journalists on Tuesday that the “effort is to bring all non-Congress non-BJP parties, which are against price rise and corruption of the present government.” But the invitation letter for the meeting sent to parties by CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, however, makes the agenda amply clear. “Communal riots are increasing in the country. Communal forces are involved in fanning communal tension, which is provoking communal violence, “the letter says, adding, “the communal riots breaking out in Muzaffarnagar is a matter of concern for all of us … It has become necessary that democratic and secular forces reply to this challenge by coming together, maintain the unity of people and protect secularism.”
Curiously, the AGP that attended the Samata Manch meeting here on Wednesday, was the prime mover for the coming together on Sunday of 11 regional political parties that have named themselves as the North-East Regional Political Front (NERPF) to press the Centre to solve the “common and vital issues” of the region.
In a show of solidarity, Akali Dal leader and former Chief Minister of Punjab Surjit Singh Barnala attended the NERPF meeting.