Kolkata/New Delhi: West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) head Mamata Banerjee reached New Delhi Tuesday afternoon, ahead of a key meeting of opposition parties called by her to decide on a common candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.
The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Constitution Club Wednesday.
Mamata had written to 22 opposition leaders — including chief ministers of non-BJP ruled states — last Saturday, asking them to attend the meeting, indicating her intent to play a key role in the election.
The move came at a time when the Congress has already been reaching out to various parties to ascertain whether they are in favour of fielding a joint contender against the nominee of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Congress sources told ThePrint that the party will attend the meeting called by Mamata. They said former Union minister Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Sabha MP Randeep Surjewala and Leader of Opposition in the Upper House Mallikarjun Kharge will be representing the party at the meeting.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a press release Tuesday evening confirming that it will be represented by Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem at Wednesday’s meeting.
According to a TMC sources, the Shiv Sena will be represented by Maharashtra Industries Minister Subhash Desai as CM Uddhav Thackeray has prior engagements while his son and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray will be in Ayodhya along with party MP Sanjay Raut.
The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are unlikely to attend the meeting, sources said.
On reaching Delhi, Mamata called on Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, who was said to be a frontrunner in the opposition’s list of probables.
“Our resolve to fight divisive forces grows stronger,” the TMC tweeted from its official handle, with photographs of Mamata and Pawar, while confirming that the NCP too would be attending the meeting.
However, Pawar has reportedly declined the offer to contest the presidential election.
“We haven’t decided on any particular name so far. That will happen at the meeting at the Constitution Club. Since it’s a joint meeting, consensus is important and hopefully a name will be shortlisted as the candidate of the opposition parties,” Trinamool MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy told ThePrint.
BJP leader and former Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta said that the opposition is “whistling in the dark”.
“Mamata has called this meeting to divert attention from the law and order situation in West Bengal, which has made headlines, so she’s rushed to Delhi. The opposition candidate will be a symbolic one as the numbers are not in their favour,” he told ThePrint.
TMC eyeing bigger national role
After preventing the BJP’s victory in last year’s West Bengal assembly elections, the Trinamool has been eyeing a bigger national role.
The Congress, which has also been trying for opposition unity in the presidential election, is currently rallying behind its MP Rahul Gandhi, who is being questioned by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with an alleged case of money laundering linked to National Herald.
Interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi, hospitalised due to Covid, is learnt to have made Kharge in-charge of the party’s decisions regarding the presidential elections.
The TMC and the Congress are known to share a tense relationship, especially since both went head to head in the Goa assembly polls held earlier this year. Mamata had last reached out to Sonia in January, offering a tie-up for the Goa elections, but did not get a favourable response.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)