Patna: The 16 opposition parties which came together in Patna on Friday, June 23, vowed to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unitedly in the 2024 General Election to dislodge the Narendra Modi government. The leaders recalled the significance of Patna for opposition unity, for it was the epicentre of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement in the 1970s that resulted in the ouster of the Indira Gandhi regime.
The leaders of the opposition parties gathered at 1-Aney Marg in Patna, the official residence of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who played the host.
Meanwhile, the unease between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over the contentious Ordinance concerning the administration of Delhi was palpable at the meeting too. Although AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal did attend the meeting, he gave a miss to the press conference addressed by the opposition leaders after the meeting. The Delhi chief minister, sources told, was not fully satisfied with the meeting’s proceedings and priorities.
In fact, word has it that Kejriwal even wanted to skip the meeting but turned up for it upon Nitish Kumar’s insistence. He is said to have decided not to attend the meeting until Thursday afternoon. The AAP insists that Congress must publicly declare its opposition to the Ordinance for AAP to take part in any of the opposition meetings. The Ordinance brought out by the Modi government overrides the Supreme Court order which empowers the Delhi government’s authority over its officers.
Except for the AAP-Congress differences, the leaders of various opposition parties said they are ready to fight together to take on the BJP in the coming General Election. Towards this end, they said that another round of discussion would be held in Shimla around July 11-12 to finalise the way forward for opposition parties. The Congress party will play the host for the upcoming meeting.
“We will meet again next month to finalise our strategy against the BJP. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge will host that meeting. We are largely united and have resolved to work in unison against the BJP,” said Nitish Kumar. Kharge then added, “The meeting will take place at Shimla, tentatively on July 11-12.”
The highlight of the meeting was the coming together of the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, and Congress. Both TMC and SP have, for long, expressed their reservations over sharing a stage with the Congress party. Both Mamata Banerjee of TMC and Akhilesh Yadav of SP promised to work with other opposition parties in the “spirit of collectivism”.
Banerjee and Yadav are genuinely faced with the dilemma vis-a-vis their relationship with Congress, for they credit their political growth and success to the voter base mainly formed out of the minorities and Dalits, which had, in fact, the core constituency of the Congress during its heydays. In a way, they and the Congress share a common constituency. However, they demand that the Congress should allow them a “free hand” to fight the BJP in their respective regions. The Congress, they say, can focus solely on those states where it is strong and is in a direct contest with the BJP.
Calling for a “collective campaign” against the BJP, Banerjee said, “The Modi government has used central agencies – Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate – against their opponents in a partisan manner. It is changing history. We are here to work collectively and protect the history…time to carry out a collective campaign to oust the BJP from power.”
Yadav concurred with Banerjee’s views, expressing his desire to work in a “harmonious unison” with other opposition parties to fight the BJP.
Even before the meeting began, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had set the tone for discussions. “It’s the battle of ideologies. It’s Bharat Jodo (unite India) versus Bharat Todo (break India). We represent ‘unite India’ and BJP-RSS represents ‘break India’. We can conquer this battle only with love. We will fight collectively to defeat the BJP-RSS,” he said, addressing his party workers, ahead of the meeting.
After the meeting, he did acknowledge that there were “differences” amongst opposition parties, however, he said, “We might have our small differences but we will work collectively to sort them out and fight against the RSS-BJP.”
Touch of history
While thanking Nitish Kumar for organising the opposition parties’ meeting in Patna, Banerjee pointed out that the Bihar capital was the epicentre of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement in the 1970s, which led to the ouster of Indira Gandhi’s government in 1977. In fact, it was on June 5, 1974, JP called for a “total revolution” from Patna’s Gandhi Maidan.
Host Nitish and entertainer Lalu
Nitish acted as a perfect host on the occasion. He personally went to the airport to receive Rahul, Kharge, all his counterparts, and senior leaders. “Thank you, Nitish ji, for getting me to taste litti-chokha and several other delicious Bihari foods at lunch,” said Rahul Gandhi.
The Bihar chief minister personally received his counterparts from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Delhi at the Patna airport. Jammu and Kashmir leaders Omar Abdullah and Mehabooba Mufti were also accorded a special welcome.
Former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who attended a political meeting after almost seven years was at its entertaining best while taking a dig at Modi.
“We have to stay united to fix Narendra Modi. Hanuman ji is at our side now and so are all the Kols and Bhils (the jungle dwellers who were part of Rama’s army against Ravana). Hanuman ne aisa gada chalaya ki Rahul ji ki Party Karnatak jeet gaye (Lord Hanuman used his mace in such a manner that Rahul Gandhi’s party emerged victorious in Karnataka),” he said, leaving others in splits.
Turning to Rahul Gandhi, he then said, “It is high time for you (Rahul) to get married so that we can attend the Baraat party. Your mother has asked me to counsel you for marriage.” The people in the room then burst out laughing.