Taking another step in its strategic plan to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Opposition bloc INDIA on Wednesday decided to hold their first joint public meeting in Bhopal in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh in the first week of October, and said the constituent parties will start seat-sharing talks “at the earliest”.
The opposition alliance also said it will raise issues related to rising prices, unemployment, corruption and caste census.
The decisions were taken at the first meeting of the coordination committee of the INDIA grouping which was held at the residence of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar in Delhi.
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Twelve leaders of the 14-member panel, the highest decision-making body of the alliance, were present at the meeting that took place against the backdrop of a raging row over DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin’s controversial remark on the Sanatan Dharma.
Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal, who is a member of the panel, said Abhishek Banerjee of the TMC could not attend the meeting due to the summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate(ED). The CPI(M) is yet to nominate its member.
He alleged that the ED summons was a result of the “vendetta politics” of the BJP and the prime minister.
“The coordination committee decided to start the process of determining the seat-sharing. It was decided that the member parties will hold the talks and decide (seat-sharing) at the earliest,” Venugopal said, reading out from a joint statement.
He said the committee also decided that the opposition bloc’s leaders will hold joint public meetings in different parts of the country.
“The first public meeting will be held at Bhopal in the first week of October on the issue of rising prices, unemployment and corruption of the BJP government. The parties present in the meeting agreed to take up the issue of the caste census,” the Congress leader said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, had an awkward moment when a smiling Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the TMC chief in a lighter vein, whether she is going to lead the INDIA bloc at a chance meeting in Dubai.
Mamata Banerjee met Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Dubai airport.
“If people support us, we can be in a position (power) tomorrow,” replied a visibly amused chief minister, who is on a 12-day official trip to Dubai and Spain.
At his media briefing, Venugopal also said the coordination committee authorised the sub-group on media to decide upon the names of the anchors on whose shows none of the INDIA parties will send their representatives.
Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) leader Raghav Chadha later told reporters that the BJP is “badly scared” of the INDIA alliance, claiming that “they are so scared that they are even ready to change the name of the country. They love neither Bharat nor India, they only love power”. National Conference(NC) chief Omar Abdullah said discussions on seat sharing will start soon.
“It is impossible to have a uniform formula applied to all. But discussions will start immediately,” he said, adding that the primary focus is going to be on Parliament seats, but wherever possible it will happen in the assembly polls too and discussion started on that as well.
“One of the things I have proposed is seats that are already held by members of INDIA bloc, those seats should not be disturbed,” he said.
Javed Ali Khan of the Samajwadi Party(SP) said there were no differences between the members. “We decided that seat sharing should be completed as soon as possible.” Asked if there will be seat sharing in assembly polls as well, he said, “It is an alliance… If they bring one nation one election, even for Panchayat elections there will be seat sharing, but that is not the case at present.” Besides Pawar, Venugopal, Chadha, Abdullah and Khan, the other leaders present at the meeting were Jharkhand Chief Minister and JMM leader Hemant Soren, CPI’s D Raja, DMK’s T R Baalu, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, JD(U)’s Sanjay Jha, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Sanjay Raut.
Holding of joint public rallies while taking up public issues was decided at the last meeting of the grouping held in Mumbai.
The resolution issued on September 1 after the third meeting of the bloc in Mumbai, said the parties would contest polls together “as far as possible”, and that seat sharing in arrangements in different states would be “initiated immediately” and concluded “at the earliest”.
According to opposition leaders while seat sharing in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar have been more or less sorted out, the negotiations in Delhi, Punjab and West Bengal could be challenging.
The meeting also focussed on finalizing campaigns and rallies to be held in the coming days, but no decision in this regard was announced.
Over two dozen opposition parties have formed the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to challenge the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) unitedly in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
At the first meeting of the Opposition bloc in Patna in June, it was decided that the strongest candidate from each seat would be picked up for the Lok Sabha polls.
Sources said that leaders of several opposition parties have sought an early seat-sharing formula to be worked out to ensure that a joint opposition candidate is put up against BJP candidates in Lok Sabha seats.
However, several leaders said the parties have to “shed their egos” and “vested interests” in arriving at such a formula.