Top Opposition leaders came together on a virtual platform on Friday to give a call for unity and working together for the “ultimate goal” of defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and providing a government that believes in the values of the freedom movement and the principles enshrined in the Constitution.
The leaders of 19 parties, who participated in the virtual meet, issued a joint statement that called upon “the people of India to rise to the occasion to defend our secular, democratic Republican order” and announced joint protest action between September 20 and 30.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who convened the virtual meeting, said the opposition parties simply had “no alternative to working cohesively together” and needed to rise above “compulsions in the interest of the nation”.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee suggested the formation of a Core Committee to focus on key issues that affect the people and said parties that are not aligned to the Congress should also be invited as “every Opposition party should be brought into the fight against the BJP”.
Addressing a key point that often comes in the way of forging Opposition unity, Ms. Banerjee said parties should “forget who is the leader as the people of India will lead” the fight against the BJP.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeracy endorsed Ms Banerjee’s views and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin raised the issue of Centre ‘undermining’ federalism.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi suggested that the opposition parties should offer an alternative vision to counter the vision offered by the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
In what appeared to be show of Opposition strength and forging of unity, 19 parties including the Congress were part of the meeting. However, the Samaj Party (SP) dropped out at the last minute, with party chief Akhilesh Yadav informing that he was in “an interior part” of Uttar Pradesh.
Sources claimed though the Bahujan Samaj Party was sent an invite, there was no response; the Aam Admi Party, however, was left out by the Congress.
Apart from Chief Ministers of some of the Opposition-ruled States including Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren, other top leaders included Sharad Pawar (NCP), Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), D Raja (CPI), Tejaswi Yadav (RJD) among others.
Ms. Gandhi set the tone for the meeting by pointing out that Opposition unity was in full display during the monsoon session of Parliament.
“I am confident that this unity will be sustained in future sessions of Parliament as well. But the larger political battle has to be fought outside it. Of course, the ultimate goal is the 2024 Lok Sabha elections for which we have to begin to plan systematically with the single-minded objective of giving to our country a government that believes in the values of the Freedom Movement and in the principles and provisions of our Constitution,” she said.
“This is a challenge but together we can and must rise to it because there is simply no alternative to working cohesively together. We all have our compulsions, but clearly, a time has come when the interests of our nation demand that we rise above them,” Ms. Gandhi added.
As reported by The Hindu earlier , the joint statement which touched upon a host of issues, put forward 10 demands. However, Ms Banerjee suggested that the demands should be reduced to five key issues including a judicial probe into the Pegasus snooping controversy, vaccination for all, repeal of the three farm laws, ₹7,500 monthly cash transfers to those outside income tax bracket and the immediate rollback of the hike in petrol, diesel and cooking gas prices.
Targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech, the joint statement said the address “did not focus on a single issue concerning people’s miseries”.
“The speech was full of rhetoric, empty slogans and disinformation. In fact, it was a repackaging of earlier speeches given in 2019 and 2020. This speech is an ominous warning that lives of our people will continue to be ruined further,” it added.
After the meeting, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said, “The new India is a Modi project which is based on disruption and destruction of the Constitution and erecting the RSS’ intolerant Hindu Rashtra. It is a battle for which the time has come to firmly decide where you stand.”
At the meeting, CPI’s D Raja too talked at length about RSS ‘redefining’ the notion of the Indian State and democracy.
Referring to the recent washout of the monsoon session because of the government’s refusal to discuss the Pegasus issue, Mr. Raja is said to have told the meeting that Parliament would be redundant if monsoon session becomes an example.
On the issue of Pegasus, however, Jharkhand Chief Minister is learnt to have argued that the issue needs to be explained well for common people to understand the gravity of the matter.
RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav said the Opposition needs to start preparing for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls now and cited Bihar and Bengal elections as examples where the BJP can be contained.
(With inputs from Sobhana k. Nair)