Opposition leaders to kick-start ‘Mission 2024’ with Patna huddle

Mamata says will 'fight like family'

Patna: Top leaders of Opposition parties will meet here on Friday to chalk out a roadmap for the formation of an anti-BJP front for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asserting that they will fight together “like a family” to take on the NDA “one to one”.

Sources said the Opposition parties would look to avoid the prickly leadership question as of now and emphasize on building a common ground. Leaders of 15 parties including half-a-dozen chief ministers are expected to attend the deliberations.

A day before the crucial deliberations, fissures in the Opposition ranks came to the fore with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sources saying that the party will walk out of the meeting if the Congress does not promise its support against the Centre’s ordinance on the control of administrative services in Delhi.

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Also, the Samajwadi Party would be the only party from Uttar Pradesh attending the meeting with BSP supremo Mayawati not being invited and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary set to skip the conclave due to a family programme.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (TMC), Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann (AAP), Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin (DMK), Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren (JMM), Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav, Maharashtra’s former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena-UBT), and NCP president Sharad Pawar are among the leaders expected to attend the first high-level opposition meeting.

It is being hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (JDU) and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav (RJD) here at the chief minister’s 1, Aney Marg residence.

Leaders of the PDP, CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML) and the National Conference are also expected to attend the meeting.

West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee, who arrived here in the evening, met Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav, former Bihar CM Rabri Devi and Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav here.

Asked what will happen at tomorrow’s meeting, she told reporters outside Tejashwi Yadav’s residence, “I cannot say anything now. We have come here as we will fight together, one to one (against the BJP).” “We will fight together like a collective family,” she asserted.

The TMC chief, however, avoided questions on her reservations about the Congress party’s alliance with the Left in her state and the Aam Aadmi Party threatening a “walkout” if the Congress support was not forthcoming on the Delhi ordinance issue.

Later in the evening, Chief Minister Kumar met Banerjee.

Speaking with reporters in Kolkata as she left for Patna, she hoped that the opposition meeting would be constructive and asserted that the BJP must be defeated in the next Lok Sabha polls to save the country from disaster.

Kejriwal and Mann also arrived in Patna Thursday evening and visited the Patna Sahib gurudwara.

Tamil Nadu CM Stalin, CPI chief D Raja, CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti reached Patna Thursday.

Sources said the meeting was being seen as a starting point for the Opposition to come together to take on the Narendra Modi-led BJP dispensation. Therefore, a basic outline and roadmap for the Opposition unity are likely to be deliberated upon with the contentious issue of seat-sharing and the leadership question to be avoided for now, they said.

“This is just the beginning. A meeting of minds is important. The strategy, leadership question and seat-sharing are unlikely to be discussed at this stage,” a senior Opposition leader said on condition of anonymity.

The leader said issues that the Opposition would jointly raise to corner the BJP would be at the top of the agenda and in this context the Manipur violence and the Centre’s alleged failure there are likely to be discussed.

All eyes are on the meeting’s agenda and whether the Centre’s ordinance on the control of administrative services in the national capital would be a key part of the discussions as AAP wants.

Keeping cards close to its chest, the Congress has so far kept its stand ambiguous as to whether it would support the AAP or not when the ordinance is put to test in Parliament by the BJP-led Centre.

Kejriwal on Tuesday had expressed hope that the Congress will clear its stand on the Centre’s ordinance at the June 23 meeting.

The meeting also comes amid tensions between the Congress and TMC. Congress’ leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury staged a dharna outside a block office in Bengal’s Murshidabad district demanding action against the activists of the ruling Trinamool Congress who allegedly attacked Congress workers in the run-up to the panchayat polls in the state.

The BJP has been taking swipes at the Opposition over differences within its ranks and repeatedly jabbing it over the leadership question as to who will be their prime ministerial face.

Bihar Congress chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh hit back at the BJP’s criticism, saying the issue of who would be the prime ministerial face of the Opposition alliance is not important as the leadership question can be tackled collectively after defeating the BJP in the 2024 elections.

Singh also claimed that when Opposition parties unite and contest the general elections next year, the BJP will come down to less than 100 seats.

CPI general secretary D Raja, who would be attending the meeting, hailed the Patna huddle of Opposition leaders as a step forward “in the right direction”.

“This meeting is being held immediately after the Karnataka elections. Several state elections are coming up and the Lok Sabha polls are due in 2024. This (the meeting) will give clarity,” Raja told PTI.

The secular democratic parties coming together itself is a very positive message and that is the reason why the BJP is getting “jittery and desperate”, he claimed.

Exuding confidence that the anti-BJP alliance can win in 2024, Raja said the secular democratic parties must work together keeping in view the primary objective to defeat BJP.

“This is not just for winning seats and forming a government. This is to safeguard democracy, Constitution, the secular fabric of the country and even safeguarding the sovereign independence of Parliament,” he said.

“When elections take place, the electoral strategy and seat-sharing will be discussed at the state level. It will be based on the balance of political forces. There, I think, the secular democratic parties must be more reasonable and mutually accommodating,” the CPI leader said.

The meeting also comes amid a churn in the ruling coalition in Patna as well with one of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ allies and former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi walking out of the alliance and crossing over to the NDA.

Targeting the parties which are slated to participate in the opposition conclave, Mayawati termed the meeting more about joining of hands than hearts.

The BSP chief has not been invited for the opposition meeting.

JD(U) leader K C Tyagi said, “We have invited those parties that are willing to fight against the BJP in 2024 and want to be a part of an anti-BJP front.”

“We have not invited Mayawati, Naveen Patnaik, K Chandrashekar Rao and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, so there is no question of them skipping the meeting,” he told PTI.

Tyagi said leaders of 15 parties are set to attend the meeting here.

RLD leader Chaudhary said he will not attend the meeting due to a “predetermined family programme”.

“I am sure that this meeting will prove to be an important milestone in the path of opposition unity,” the RLD chief said.

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