Bengaluru: With a call for unity, top leaders of 26 opposition parties began crucial deliberations on Monday to chalk out their joint programme aimed at defeating the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, who were seated next to each other, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, chief ministers M K Stalin, Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren and RJD chief Lalu Prasad were among those who attended the dinner meeting where discussions were held to finalise the agenda for the formal talks starting Tuesday morning.
Sources said NCP chief Sharad Pawar was the only leader among the invitees not present at the meeting at Taj West End Hotel and he would arrive on Tuesday along with his daughter Supriya Sule.
Mamata Banerjee, D Rajam Uddhav Thackeray attend meeting
"It was a good meeting," Mamata Banerjee later said.
The leaders sat in front of a huge banner with "United We Stand" slogan, which was also put on posters that dotted the streets of Bengaluru with pictures of opposition leaders.
Among others at the meeting hosted by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah were Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Akhilesh Yadav (SP), Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena-UBT), Farooq Abdullah (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), besides Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), D Raja (CPI), Jayant Chaudhary (RLD) and MDMK MP Vaiko. A warm welcome was earlier accorded here to all the leaders on their arrival here for the two-day brain-storming session.
The Congress and other parties asserted that their meeting was setting the narrative and would be a "game changer" for the Indian political scenario .
They took a swipe at the BJP, saying those who used to talk of defeating the opposition parties alone are now making attempts to breathe new life into the NDA.
Claiming that the BJP was rattled, Congress president Kharge said all opposition alliance partners will unitedly fight against the BJP and thwart attempts to divide them.
The Opposition meeting coincides with the NDA meeting convened on July 18 in Delhi, where some new allies are likely to join the ruling BJP-led coalition.
Talks of unity notwithstanding, differences among opposition parties, especially those who have been traditional rivals, remain and reconciling political interests will be a challenging task.
Yechury calls for efforts to avoid split
Arriving for the Opposition meeting, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury ruled out any alliance with the TMC in West Bengal and said that secular parties along with the Left and the Congress will take on the BJP as well as the TMC in the state.
Yechury, however, added that the endeavour is to reduce the split in opposition votes and they will chalk out a plan to fight together.
The BJP, which has been targeting these parties over their differences, on Monday called it a "meeting of opportunists and power-hungry" leaders and said such an alliance will not do any good for the country at present or in the future.
But Congress general secretary organisation KC Venugopal said the 26 opposition parties are here to move forward unitedly and give a solution for people's problems and to address the concerns over this "dictatorial government's actions".
Joint agitation plan
Sources said the opposition leaders will begin work on a common minimum programme and announce a joint agitational plan, besides holding discussions on issuing a joint declaration and moving forward on their proposal of putting up common opposition candidates in a majority of the Lok Sabha seats.
Fifteen parties including the Congress, TMC, AAP, CPI, CPI-M, RJD, JMM, NCP, Shiv Sena (UBT), SP and JDU, attended the last meeting for opposition unity hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna on June 23.
Among the parties added this time are MDMK, KDMK, VCK, RSP, CPI-ML, Forward Bloc, IUML, Kerala Congress (Joseph) and Kerala Congress (Mani), besides the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi) of Krishna Patel and Tamil Nadu's Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) led by M H Jawahirullah.
The total strength of the opposition parties attending this meeting is around 150 in Lok Sabha.
TMC leader Derek O'Brien said political parties at the Bengaluru meeting "were clearly setting the narrative" while the "BJP is reacting".
He claimed that out of the NDA allies, eight do not have a single MP, nine have one MP each and three have two MPs each.
Kharge took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he had claimed that he alone is enough to take on the Opposition, then why was he feeling the need to get 30 parties together.
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said attempts are being made to breathe new life into the NDA "which had become a ghost".
Venugopal said the opposition parties are all united by a common purpose to protect democracy, constitutional rights and the independence of institutions in this country.
The Parliament session is starting on July 20 and the opposition parties will chalk out the strategy for that also, he said.
"We are very sure that this (meeting) is going to be a game changer for the Indian political scenario," Venugopal said.
Asked who would be the leader of the alliance, Venugopal said, "We have enough leaders, who have proved their mettle in various capacities. You don't worry about the leader, worry about the situation in the country."
Referring to his party's differences with the TMC, CPI(M) leader Yechury said the situation is different in every state.
"The effort is to ensure that in these situations the division of votes which gives BJP the advantage should be minimal. This is not a new thing. Like in 2004, the Left had 61 seats, out of which we won 57 defeating the Congress candidates...then the Manmohan Singh government was formed and it ran for 10 years.
"Mamata and CPI(M) will not happen. There will be secular parties along with the Left and the Congress in West Bengal which will fight against the BJP and TMC," the CPI(M) general secretary said, adding that at the Centre what form this will take will be decided later.
Yechury referred to the 2004 model which brought the Left-Congress coalition to power at the Centre.
The Opposition meeting comes in the backdrop of the split in the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the violence-marred West Bengal panchayat polls.