“We stand together to contest BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha elections”, echoes non-BJP Opposition parties in Patna
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge during a press briefing after the conclusion of the Opposition leaders’ meeting, in Patna on June 23, 2023
| Photo Credit: ANI
Framing the next general election as a fight between “democracy and dictatorship”, 15 Opposition parties came together, projecting a united front in Patna on June 23. At the end of the four-hour long meeting, no joint statement was issued, nor a seat-sharing formula declared. It concluded on the promise of fighting the BJP together and leaving behind the burden of past prejudices.
The meeting was the first of the many that the Opposition has planned. The next meeting will be hosted by the Congress in Shimla around mid-July.
Also read: Opposition meet in Patna concludes
Barring a few tense moments, with bitter exchanges between the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the atmosphere was convivial. Many Opposition leaders urged the Congress to be “generous.” It too played its part by listening more and speaking less.
The meeting began with an opening address from Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar and his colleague from Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Lalu Prasad. Mr. Kumar, according to sources, said that as “we edge closer to May 2024 many more political parties will join this block”.
Mr. Prasad, who appeared for the first time in a political meeting after his recent kidney transplant, urged the Congress to be “large-hearted” and said that the larger force in each State should be given primacy – a view that was echoed by Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav later during the meeting.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was urged to speak, as the leader of the largest party present, but Mr. Kharge chose to listen instead and decided to speak at the very end.
NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar wanted a joint statement issued, though the other parties disagreed, saying it is too early to frame one. Mr. Kejriwal advocated for embracing the “nation first, party second” motto, appealing for each party to be flexible.
The discussion then veered towards the widely anticipated electoral arrangement. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M.K. Stalin elucidated that there can be no “single formula for seat sharing across the country”. It will vary from State to State according to the political equation there. It was also endorsed by National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, who called the formula of one common candidate against BJP in 543 seats “impractical”.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee demanded that the Opposition work with the goal of “no vote to BJP” but at the same time be conscious that this fight does not devolve into “BJP versus All”. Instead it is about “BJP vs People of India”, she said.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi who spoke towards the end underlined three things. He referred to comments by Mr. Pawar who cited the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance of NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena (UBT) in Maharashtra as an example of how Opposition can overcome past differences and ideological issues. “I have come here without any past memory. Congress party will not hold on to its past likes and dislikes,” Mr. Gandhi said according to sources. Opposition unity, he said, begins with a clean slate. He said the BJP currently enjoys a monopoly over finances, institutions and modes of communication. To counter this, the Opposition has to build a common narrative.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the Opposition must focus on the issue of economic distress.
Addressing a joint press conference at the end of the meeting, Mr. Kumar slammed BJP saying that the party in power at the Centre these days “is not working in national interest”.
Ms. Banerjee said the Opposition will work to stall the BJP “even if blood flows”. “We resolved three things. One we are united, second we will contest the election together against BJP and third, the next meeting will be held in Shimla,” she said before adding, “History has started from here”.
Mr. Kharge said in the next meeting further discussions will take place on region-specific political situations.
Former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti and Mr. Abdullah said that the very “idea of India is being threatened today”. “Today democracy and other institutions of our country are being attacked and what started in Kashmir is now gripping the whole country. Gandhi’s country will not become Godse’s country… there will be our government,” said Ms. Mufti. Mr. Abdullah hoped that free and fair elections are held in Jammu and Kashmir.
Left leaders D. Raja, Mr. Yechury and Dipankar Bhattacharya echoed, “We’ll move together and fight together to reclaim our Republic before it is lost”. Similarly, Mr. Pawar and Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray said the first step towards a joint effort against BJP “has started from Patna today”. “Several movements have started from Patna and now this too has begun. We’ve decided from here to contest elections unitedly and I’m quite confident that we’ll achieve our goal”, said Mr. Pawar. “Well begun is half done” quipped Mr. Thackeray.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav and Mr. Prasad too addressed mediapersons and said the “meeting was the first step towards their common goal”.