New Delhi: The heads of 21 “like-minded” political parties have been invited by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge to join the concluding ceremony of the party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar on 30 January.
While individual leaders and MPs had been invited by Rahul Gandhi to join the yatra in the past, the invitation by Kharge, sent out Wednesday, is addressed specifically to heads of parties.
The parties on the list of invitees include the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (Marxist), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).
Both Tejashwi Yadav and his father, former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad, from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have been invited. As have Omar and Farooq Abdullah from the National Conference (NC).
Former Bihar MP Sharad Yadav has been sent a separate invitation.
Notably, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS, formerly Telangana Rashtra Samithi) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), have been kept out of the invitation list. Former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Azad Party (DAP) has also been left out.
On the other hand, the CPI(M), which leads the Left Democratic Front coalition — the principal opposition to the Congress in Kerala — has been extended an invitation. Other Left parties, like the CPI and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) have also been invited.
Since the Bharat Jodo Yatra began in September last year, the only opposition leaders who have walked with Rahul, who is leading the yatra, are from parties in alliance with the Congress in their respective states.
These include Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M.K. Stalin, who flagged off the yatra from his state; and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar and Aaditya Thackeray of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), both of whom joined the rally in Maharashtra.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader and Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, who was formerly with the Congress, joined the yatra in Delhi, while DMK MP Kanimozhi joined in Haryana.
The only exceptions have been Makkal Needhi Maiam’s (MNM) Kamal Haasan who walked with Rahul in Delhi and National Conference (NC) stalwart and former J&K CM Farooq Abdullah who joined the yatra right before it entered Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh.
Before the yatra entered UP at the start of this month, BSP supremo Mayawati also extended her greetings to the Congress, though she stayed away from the rally.
SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, too, had done the same upon receiving an invitation to join the walkathon. However, his move seemed to be a U-turn from his previous statement on the yatra where he had said the Congress and rival BJP “are the same”.
Earlier, PDP chief and former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti had confirmed that she would join the yatra when it passes through the Union territory between 20 and 30 January.
Also read: Day before Bharat Jodo Yatra enters UP, Akhilesh congratulates Rahul, thanks him for invite
Opposition under Gandhi umbrella?
The fact that Kharge has sent the invitations this time around and not Rahul Gandhi, even though the yatra has been ostensibly led by the latter, is significant.
All previous invitations to opposition leaders for the yatra had been sent by Gandhi.
In his letter to party heads, Kharge wrote the concluding ceremony of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.
“From the beginning of the yatra, we have invited the participation of every like-minded individual. At the invitation of Shri Rahul Gandhi, MPs of several political parties have also walked in the Yatra at different stages. I now invite you to personally join the concluding function of the Bharat Jodo Yatra to be held in Srinagar on January 30th at noon. The function is dedicated in memory of Mahatma Gandhi who lost his life on this day in his tireless struggle against the ideology of hatred and violence,” his letter read.
Speaking to ThePrint last week, TMC leader Sukhendu Sekhar Ray had said that despite the Congress’ “frantic” attempts, the party had, so far, “not received any support outside of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) umbrella, barring a few, rather symbolic presences”.
The Congress has officially denied it is making attempts to project Rahul Gandhi as the opposition’s face for the 2024 general elections.
On 30 December last year, party leader and former Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath had termed Rahul Gandhi the opposition’s “PM face” for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
A day later, at a press conference in Delhi on 31 December, Rahul Gandhi said that if the opposition stood united and with a vision, then the BJP could be defeated. He, however, reiterated that only the Congress could provide the central ideological framework for such unity.
“If the opposition stands effectively with a vision, from what I’m seeing and hearing from the ground, it will become very difficult for the BJP to win the next elections. But the opposition has to coordinate properly and go to people with an alternative vision. But there is a strong undercurrent against the BJP,” he said.
Throughout the yatra, however, he has kept away from making any comment on himself as the leader who can bring the opposition together.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
Also read: Kanyakumari to Kashmir — what’s keeping Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Yatris on the road