The big Opposition meeting called by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to forge a consensus for fielding a joint candidate in the president election will be held today.
Ahead of the meeting which will put to test the opposition unity, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) of Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao has opted out of it, objecting to the Congress being invited to the meeting. The TRS also referred to the recent criticism of the KCR-led government by Rahul Gandhi.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party will also not be attending the opposition parties’ meeting. AAP will consider the issue only after the candidate for the upcoming Presidential election is declared, sources told news agency ANI.
Meanwhile, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) said that the party chief will take the right decision at the right time in “state’s interest”.
Despite the recent differences with Banerjee, the Congress will attend the meeting. The party will be led by former Union minister Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Sabha MP Randeep Surjewala and Leader of Opposition in the Upper House Mallikarjun Kharge.
Miffed at the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s “unilateral” decision to call a meeting for discussion on a joint presidential nominee, the CPI(M) and the CPI on Tuesday said they will send their MPs to the opposition meet to be held here on June 15.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and CPI general secretary D Raja said the top leadership will not attend the meeting called by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief.
The CPI(M) will be represented in the meeting by the leader of the party in Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem.
Yechury has also written a letter to Banerjee saying such meetings of opposition parties have always followed a procedure of prior mutual consultations to enable the maximum participation of those wishing to join.
Other opposition parties which are expected to attend the meeting include Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference (NC), Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Hemant Soren-led JMM, Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, IUML, PDP, JDS and RLD.
The bid to field a joint candidate against the NDA in the President election has already exposed the fault lines within the opposition.
On Tuesday, Banerjee and leaders of two Left parties met NCP chief Sharad Pawar at his residence separately to try and convince him to be the common opposition candidate for the top constitutional post.
The Maratha strongman, who has friends across the deeply divided political spectrum, however, turned down the proposal.
JD(U) chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who was considered another top contender for the post, has also clarified that he is not in the race.
Banerjee, whose relations with the Congress have soured since her return to power for a third straight term in West Bengal, gave a short shrift to the main opposition party and called a meeting to discuss the opposition strategy for the presidential election.
Last week, she wrote to 22 opposition leaders and chief ministers requesting them to attend the meeting on June 15 at the Constitution Club in New Delhi.
“The presidential elections are around the corner, presenting the perfect opportunity for all progressive opposition parties to reconvene and deliberate on the future course of Indian politics,” Banerjee wrote in a letter to leaders of different parties, including Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and eight non-Congress Opposition CMs: Arvind Kejriwal (AAP), Bhagwant Mann (AAP), Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Pinarayi Vijayan (CPM), K Chandrashekar Rao (TRS), Hemant Soren ( JMM), M K Stalin (DMK) and Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena-led MVA).
Among other party leaders invited to the conclave are Akhilesh Yadav (SP), D Raja (CPI), Sharad Pawar (NCP), Lalu Prasad (RJD), Jayant Chaudhary (RLD), former PM H D Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy (JDS), Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), Sukhbir Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal), Pawan Chamling (Sikkim Democratic Front), and K M Kader Mohideen (IUML).
The BJP’s better-than-expected show is a boost to the NDA ahead of the President’s polls, and is a blow to its rivals, as the Rajya Sabha elections have again highlighted dissension and lack of cohesion in the opposition ranks from Maharashtra to Karnataka and Haryana.
BJP sources said the party is pleased with the outcome, especially in Maharashtra where the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress suffered a setback despite being in power with the BJP bagging three of the six seats at stake.
It is believed that BJP, with its present strength in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, as well as in many state assemblies, will comfortably sail through the elections. The party’s counter candidate is awaited.
The presidential polls will be held on July 18 while the counting of votes will take place on July 21. President Ram Nath Kovind’s five-year term ends on July 24.