New Delhi: Opposition parties have to rise above their compulsions, set aside their differences on leadership and begin to plan “systematically” with a “single-minded objective” to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
This was the crux of the message that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior opposition leaders emphasised at the 19-party virtual meet of opposition leaders Friday.
Gandhi also underlined that there is simply “no alternative to working cohesively together”.
The leaders of parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) conceded that there are differences in the opposition but added that those should be set aside, including on the issue of leadership.
“Forget who is the leader, let’s keep our personal interests aside. People will lead…. People are the leaders. Let’s set up a core group and work together,” West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee was quoted as having said in the meeting, according to a TMC statement.
Leaders including RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav also pointed out that the opposition should unite and put pressure on the government to carry out a caste census.
The latest in the series of opposition meetings to explore the possibility of a common alliance and strengthen opposition unity was attended by leaders of 19 parties, which included the TMC, NCP, Shiv Sena, DMK, CPI, CPI(M), RJD, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha among others.
Notable absentees from the meeting were the Aam Aadmi Party, which was not invited, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Opposition parties considered friendly to the BJP such as the BJD and the YSR Congress were also not invited to the meeting.
Sources privy to the meeting said Banerjee also made the point that even those parties not allied with the Congress must be invited to the meetings. This was an apparent reference to AAP being left out of the meeting.
She also spoke of institutions and agencies like NHRC being misused to target Bengal.
Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin said federalism is being destroyed due to the scant respect BJP has for states’ rights and it is imperative that the opposition stands united at this hour.
He pointed out that the recent Parliament session has witnessed opposition unity.
“It must grow stronger & DMK supports the joint statement in toto,” Stalin later tweeted.
Federalism is being destroyed due to the scant respect BJP has for states' rights and it is imperative that the opposition stands united at this hour. The recent Parliament session has witnessed our unity. It must grow stronger & DMK supports the joint statement in toto. pic.twitter.com/lAMaK2Li8B
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) August 20, 2021
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray emphasised the fact that opposition unity needs to be displayed more prominently, sources said.
“The Opposition is united and is together but the public needs to be conveyed that. The public needs to trust us. At the same time, in all the states that have a non-BJP government, efforts are being made to destabilise it using certain agencies. The opposition needs to question that. We have all seen what the BJP is trying to do with Mamata Banerjee and West Bengal.. What have we done? We all need to raise our voice,” a senior Shiv Sena leader who spoke to ThePrint quoted Thackeray as having said in the meeting.
‘Need to extend fight to outside Parliament’
Making the opening remarks, Gandhi mentioned that the opposition had united during the Parliament session but emphasised that the “larger political battle has to be fought outside it”.
The Congress president said that in recent months, the opposition has issued two joint public statements on various national issues of common concern and how it was entirely due to the opposition parties that the Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament to restore the long-standing rights of states to identify and notify Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
“The government had erred three years back and as you well know this bill was required to rectify that mistake and a subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court,” she said. “I am confident that this unity will be sustained in future sessions of Parliament as well. But the larger political battle has to be fought outside it.”
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who also attended the virtual meeting, said the opposition needs to sharpen its attack on issues of public interest such as inflation, unemployment, farmers issue and Covid management. “We have to struggle and resist all anti-people policies in a more cohesive manner,” JMM sources quoted him as having said.
Tejashwi Yadav also reiterated that opposition parties should start preparing their strategy right away for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
“Opposition should fight the elections on its agenda…. there is a need to make our issues more sharp. Bihar and West Bengal have shown how to take on the BJP. Opposition should showcase to the people that we are united, talk about our common agenda and vision,” RJD sources quoted Yadav as having said.
Yadav also pointed out that in states where regional parties are strong, they should be allowed to take the lead.
Leaders including Yadav also reiterated that the opposition should make caste census an issue. “In the 2011 Census, UPA had collected data for the socio-economic caste census but the BJP government had not made those public,” Yadav was quoted as having said.
At the end of the meeting, the 19 parties brought out a joint statement, which among others stated that the government immediately order a Supreme Court-monitored judicial enquiry into the use of Pegasus spyware for surveillance of people.
It also called for the repeal of the three farm laws, withdrawal of unprecedented hike in petrol, diesel and cooking gas, and implement free cash transfers of Rs 7,500 per month to all families outside the income tax bracket.
The joint statement further called for marshalling and augmenting all vaccine production capabilities in India, procuring vaccines globally and speeding up the free universal mass vaccination drive immediately.
It also called for the release of all political prisoners in J&K, restoring full statehood, including J&K cadre of central services, and the conduct of free and fair elections at the earliest.
To highlight these demands, the opposition parties have decided to jointly hold protests across the country from 20-30 September.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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