Intensifying efforts to cobble up a broad coalition of Opposition parties to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2024 Parliamentary election, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, who met with Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai on Sunday, called for “a big change” in the way the country was currently being run by the BJP-led Centre.
Mr. Rao, who is president of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) – the dominant party in the southern Indian state of Telangana - met with Mr. Thackeray at the latter’s official residence ‘Varsha’ over lunch today during his day-long visit.
“I am very happy meeting with Uddhav Thackeray... We spoke at length on a number of issues and agreed on almost all points…we spoke on the need to intensify the country’s progress, to bring changes, to increase development and to bring about structural changes in policies… There needs to be a big change in the way the country is being run today. We will be talking with other regional parties as well in the coming days. We want to fight against injustice, we are fighting for democracy. Today is a new beginning,” Mr. Rao said, speaking to reporters after a two-hour meeting with Mr. Thackeray in which the Sena’s chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut was also present.
“We are like brothers,” the Telangana Chief Minister said of his Maharashtra counterpart, adding that the country today needed the inspiration of Marathi warriors like Chhatrapati Shivaji and (late Shiv Sena founder) Bal Thackeray.
Speaking on the need for continued cooperation in the future between Telangana and Maharashtra, Mr. Rao said: “Our States share a 1,000 km-long border. With the cooperation of the Maharashtra government, we could complete the excellent Kaleshwaram [lift irrigation] project which opened Telangana’s fortunes… We want to maintain this friendship with Maharashtra in the future as there are a number of things that the two States have to cooperate on.”
The Telangana CM condemned the way in which the BJP government at the Centre was misusing agencies. “The manner in which the Centre is abusing central agencies is highly condemnable… It must change its behaviour,” Mr. Rao said.
Mr. Rao, who extended an invitation for Mr. Thackeray to visit Hyderabad soon, said that in the coming days, all Opposition party leaders would be meeting at Hyderabad or some other venue to decide “a way forward”.
Mr. Thackeray, in a thinly veiled jibe against the BJP, said that there was nothing “hidden” about today’s meeting with Mr. Rao and said that “politics of revenge” was not the Sena’s brand of Hindutva.
Later, Mr. Rao visited NCP chief Sharad Pawar, whose party shares power with Mr. Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and the Congress in the tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, at the latter’s residence ‘Silver Oak’, where the two leaders held talks for nearly 90 minutes.
Lavishing praise on Mr. Pawar, Mr. Rao noted that the veteran politician had been supporting the issue of Statehood for Telangana since the start of that movement in 1969.
“I am extremely thankful for Mr. Pawar’s consistent support for Telangana’s Statehood. He has been the country’s youngest Chief Minister and he is among the seniormost leaders in the country today…we spoke at length on a number of issues, chiefly on why the country is not progressing in the way it should after 75 years of Independence,” the Telangana CM said after his meeting with the NCP supremo.
Mr. Rao said that there was a proposal that a meeting of all Opposition leaders could be held in Baramati — he bastion of the Pawar clan in Pune district — or some other place.
“There will be a meeting soon of leaders of the same wavelength. After that we will present an agenda, a timetable before the public,” said the Telangana Chief Minister.
Mr. Pawar said that his meeting with Mr. Rao was “different” in the sense that the parleys were to try and find a way out of the problems facing the country today.
“We spoke on a number of problems, from unemployment to farmer issues to rising poverty in the country today. Telangana has shown the country a way forward. We spoke of trying to create an atmosphere for development in the country in the future,” said Mr. Pawar.
In December 2021, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee had paid a similar visit to Mumbai with the object of trying to stitch up an alliance against the BJP.
At the time, Ms. Banerjee had met with Mr. Pawar and Sena leaders like Aaditya Thackeray and Mr. Raut as Mr. Thackeray was unwell. However, with no love lost between the TMC and the Congress (a partner in the MVA coalition), and the perception being that the TMC wanted to form an anti-BJP coalition without the Congress, the results of the meeting came a cropper.