Ahead of the crucial third round of discussions, the opposition INDIA bloc on Wednesday exuded confidence that it would provide a formidable alternative to bring political change in the country and asserted that it has several prime ministerial faces against BJP’s “only one”.
The opposition alliance also expanded its ambit to 28 parties by including two regional outfits – the Peasants and Workers Party of India (PWP), a Marxist political party in Maharashtra, and another regional outfit.
As many as 63 representatives from 28 political parties will attend the meeting of Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) on August 31 and September 1 at Grand Hyatt hotel in Mumbai.
The alliance leaders are getting together for the third round of brainstorming session here, after Patna and Bengaluru, to chalk out their common campaign strategy to take on the NDA in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The alliance would announce a coordination committee, which could be of 11 members from principal opposition parties, and will unveil a logo for the bloc.
Several chief ministers and senior leaders including Mamata Banerjee and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad have already arrived, besides former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, while Akhilesh Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Hemant Soren, M K Stalin, Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann would arrive on Thursday.
Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and party chief Mallikarjun Kharge would also land in Mumbai on Thursday, after which they will attend a dinner hosted by Uddhav Thackeray.
Mamata Banerjee on her arrival in Mumbai tied Rakhi on Thackeray and Amitabh Bachchan.
To a query on who will be INDIA alliance PM candidate, Mamata Banerjee said, “India will be our PM face. Our primary concern is to save the country,” she said.
Addressing a press conference here, NCP leader Sharad Pawar said he has confidence that the opposition alliance will provide a formidable alternative to bring about a political change in the country.
He said there has been no discussion on seat sharing within INDIA alliance.
Pawar said there is no confusion over the NCP. People will teach those who have left a lesson, he added, targeting estranged nephew Ajit Pawar who joined the Eknath Shinde-led government in Maharashtra last month.
Asked about BSP chief Mayawati, Pawar said, “It is not known on whose side she is. Earlier she has had dialogue with BJP.”
On Muslim parties like the AIUDF not being part of the alliance, Pawar said, “they have spoken with me and are inclined to go with us. But I can’t take a decision on this alone; we will have to speak with the Congress and Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena on this. There will be a collective decision on that and till then accepting their overtures is difficult.” He said there is no such proposal on inclusion of Akali Dal, “but, if they are inclined we can think about it”.
However, he said, “it is not easy because we have Arvind Kejriwal whose party is ruling Punjab and the Congress party has a different policy there.” “That is why we will not do anything that enhances our differences,” he noted.
“There are diverse parties but they can sit together, discuss and prepare a common minimum programme,” Pawar said.
Former chief minister and Shiv Sena (UBT) president Uddhav Thackeray said the alliance of opposition parties belonging to different ideologies has the common objective of protecting democracy and ‘Bharat Mata’.
On INDIA alliance PM face, Thackeray said, “We have a lot of choices, the question is what choice the BJP has.
“We have seen what has been done by the person who was there for 10 years, everyone has had his experience and now the question is before the BJP as they have to win elections,” Thackeray said. He said they saw what happened in Karnataka as they did not get any success despite bringing in Bajrang Bali, who did not give his ‘aashirwad’ (blessings) to BJP.
“So the question is before them as to what choices do they have, who will become (PM),” he noted.
To a query on the issue on who will be INDIA convener, Thackeray asked, “who is NDA’s convener”.
Taking a swipe at the Centre over its decision to slash the LPG cylinder price by Rs 200 as a ‘Raksha Bandhan gift’, he said as INDIA alliance progresses, a time will come when the central government would provide gas cylinders free of cost. He claimed that the BJP-led government is running on gas.
“Was there no Raksha Bandhan during the last nine years? As INDIA (alliance) advances, LPG cylinders will be given free. No matter what they (government) do, people are smart and understand everything,” Thackeray said.
On whether a convenor would be appointed for the INDIA alliance, the former Maharashtra chief minister said, “Let’s wait for the meeting, let deliberations take place.” “Does anyone know who is the convener of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA),” he asked.
On being asked if he would be projected as the opposition’s PM candidate, Thackeray said jokingly, “I will go and take oath tomorrow.” Former CM and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan said in 2019, non-BJP parties got 23 crore votes, while BJP got 22 crore. If we work together, we can win,” he added.
Chavan said Maharashtra has led many a revolution in the past and this time too it will lead the political revolution in the country, while referring to a change of guard in the country.
The opposition alliance would also chalk out a joint campaign strategy to take on the NDA in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and iron out the differences among themselves.
The leaders are also likely to announce a few panels to draft a common minimum programme of the alliance, to frame joint plans for holding agitations across the country and for seat sharing.