With opposition leaders from across the country pouring into Patna, it has turned into a battleground, with the BJP going on an overdrive flooding the city with posters branding the meeting as “gathering of thugs.”
The Opposition picked Patna as a venue for its meeting for two reasons – neutral ground distant from Delhi and the 1974 call of total revolution by Jayaprakash Narayan that toppled Indira Gandhi’s majority government. Former Deputy Chief Minister and BJP Rajya Sabha member Sushil Kumar Modi scoffed at the Opposition and singling out the Congress, he said, “The one who imposed Emergency in the country and put Jayaprakash Narayan in jail, murderer of democracy, curbed the freedom of the press are coming to Bihar and crying out for democracy.” Democracy, he said, was not in danger, it was the family members of the opposition parties who find themselves in peril. “They are engaged in saving the politics of their respective families,” he added.
Unperturbed by the BJP’s blitz against them, for the Opposition leaders Thursday was a day to reconnect and reminiscence before cold-headed negotiations begin. Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, along with her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, directly went to 5, Deshratna Marg, after landing in the city in the afternoon, to meet Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad, praising him for his tenacity to fight against the BJP in spite of all odds, including prolonged jail term. “I respect Lalu ji a lot and I am very happy to meet Lalu ji, Rabri Devi ji and Tejashwi Yadav. Lalu ji is a very senior leader of the country. The poor man was in jail for many days, he was in the hospital as well. His health was not good and we were very sad. Today, after meeting him I am very happy. And I feel he is still strong to fight the BJP,” she said, emerging after the meeting.
Ms. Banerjee laughed as she recounted the exchange she had with Mr. Prasad in Parliament a few decades ago. “You know, once Lalu ji was giving a speech in the Parliament. I was also an MP and he was speaking about the increase in price of potato and onion. Then, I asked what is the price of Rabri ji? Then he said her price is very high.”
She called the Opposition a family and side-stepped questions on AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s assertion that Delhi ordinance should be discussed first. But that is not the only tricky problem the Opposition has to negotiate. When presspersons asked her how would the Congress, the CPI(M) and the Trinamool settle the electoral equation in West Bengal, she said, “Let us see what happens in the meeting tomorrow [June 23], after that we will talk. The policy which would prepare will be acceptable to all. The Opposition should have a common candidate.”
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti was the first to reach Patna in the morning itself. Later in the evening, Mr. Kejriwal and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann reached Patna apart from CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI general secretary D. Raja and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin also reached by evening.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and senior leader Rahul Gandhi are expected to reach on Friday morning, just before the meeting, leaving little scope of an accidental meeting between them and Mr. Kejriwal, who has been seeking a meeting.
The other leaders who will reach on Friday morning include Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav; Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren; former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray; NCP chief Sharad Pawar and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah.
The Opposition meeting would be held at the official residence of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at 1, Aney Marg, starting from 11 a.m.