With 2019 Elections in Mind, Opposition Leaders Come Together for a ‘Save the Constitution’ Rally

To highlight the ‘threat to the Indian constitution’ posed by BJP, opposition parties held an alternative Republic Day event in Mumbai.

The rally is believed to have been organised in response to the alleged attempt by the BJP to dilute the constitution. Credit: The Wire

Mumbai: On India’s 69th republic Day, leaders of several opposition parties took part in a ‘Samvidhan Bachao’ (save the constitution) rally at Mumbai’s Gateway of India in what is being seen as an early attempt to project unity to challenge the BJP in the upcoming 2019 elections.

“Our Constitution is under a great threat. We have to save it before it is too late,” said Narayan Prakhar, before breaking into a slogan “Samvidhan bachaana hain, fascism hataana hai (We have to save the constitution to get rid of fascism)”. Prakhar, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) worker from Nashik had travelled to Mumbai along with over two dozen other party workers to participate in the rally.

Prominent names who walked a short distance from the statue of Dr BR Ambedkar till Gateway of India, a 20-minute walk, included Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, Congress’ Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and JDU’s Sharad Yadav. They were joined by Communist Party of India’s D Raja, All India Trinamool Congress’ Dinesh Trivedi and Gujarat youth leaders Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor. Hundreds of activists also joined the march.

A prominent absentee was Prakash Ambedkar, who has emerged as a powerful Dalit voice in Maharashtra and outside. No representatives of the southern Dravidian parties were present either.

The rally, believed to be organised in response to the alleged attempt by the BJP to dilute the constitution, managed to bring different political parties on the same platform, including those who have been openly critical of each other. For instance, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) MP Raju Shetti, who is known for his clear anti-NCP stand and had in the past aligned with the BJP, did not mind sharing the same space as his opponent.

“The BJP has the power and the position to introduce any change to the constitution. A union minister (referring to Anant Kumar Hegde) has spoken about the possible changes to the constitution already and made his intent clear. We cannot be waiting silently and allow the BJP to make this grave mistake,” Shetti said. “It is not about one party but about consolidating all pro-constitution forces.”

“Since 1947, we have been deriving our identity from the Indian constitution. We all have come here to send across a message that to save the country, the constitution should be protected,” Abdullah said.

“It was a symbolic rally which began from Ambedkar’s statue and ended near Shivaji Maharaj’s statue, only to remind us what we have and what is getting eroded,” said Prithviraj Chavan, senior Congress leader and former chief minister of Maharashtra.

Asking to forget the differences among the parties assembled at the rally, Chavan said this is the moment to challenge the government that has moved towards “dictatorship”.

“All secular people, who have a stake in democracy, should unite to fight against the BJP. They are attempting to change the constitution and this poses a grave threat to the country,” Chavan said.

The rally considered to be conceived and spearheaded by the NCP leader Jitendra Ahwad was successful to an extent of putting together a substantial show of opposition. “The rally went on as expected. Leaders from Delhi and elsewhere flew down to participate in this. We want to bring out a strong opposition this time and prepare much ahead of time,” Ahwad claimed.

Ahwad also hinted at the possible support to the Congress in 2019. In 2014, post the state assembly elections, NCP had decided to ditch its long- time ally Congress and support the BJP. Pawar had then claimed the decision was taken in the interest of “stability of the state“.

Opposition leaders who have been protesting Hindutva, vigilantism and alleged persecution of minorities and Dalits found ‘Save the Constitution’ an ideal platform to come together. “What happened in Bhima Koregaon recently is also quite telling about the state in which BJP-rules states are. Only Constitution can save this country from further disintegration,” said Thakur, Congress’ young MLA who won from Radhanpur constituency in the recent Gujarat assembly election.

Ahead of the rally, the leaders had attended a meeting at the official residence of leader of opposition in Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil in South Mumbai. This meeting was to chart out the crucial agenda for the rally, Ahwad explained. Later in the day, Pawar announced that the opposition parties will meet in New Delhi on January 29 to mull on the way ahead in the fight against the BJP.

This rally is believed to have sent the BJP leadership in the state into a tizzy pushing Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to arrange for a “Tiranga rally” starting from Chaityabhoomi – another landmark location in Mumbai where Dr Ambedkar was cremated – and culminated at Kamgar Maidan in Parel.

Sharad Yadav called the BJP’s rally a yet another attempt by the party to derail an “important conversation” around the constitution of the country which is under a direct threat of being “diluted”. “Every time there is a talk of the condition of the country, on poverty, unemployment, BJP is ready with a most inconsequential issue. They will rake up anything from Taj Mahal to anti-nationalism when questioned about their intent and work in 40 months,” he said, addressing the media.

Yechury claimed the fundamental rights of people, guaranteed by the constitution, were being “assaulted” by the ruling party.

“All the opposition parties have come together at the Gateway of India, which was once seen as a sign of slavery but is now a sign of freedom to save our democratic institutions, for which we have taken an oath,” he said.

The coming together of NCP and Congress on a public platform is also significant given that the former had publicly separated from the latter ahead of the 2014 elections. More so, in October the same year, the NCP announced its support for the BJP even as the election results were coming in, thus increasing the latter’s bargaining power with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

Pawar has been seen as offering on and off support to the BJP, critical of government policies one day and diplomatically silent the other. On Friday, he declared that the NCP would only go with the Congress in the next elections.

“However, there were one or two persons who were in leadership position in the state who did not want the alliance, but that is history now and there is no bitterness now,” Pawar said in a newspaper interview.

Whether fool proof or not, today’s rally has managed to open up several possibilities of alliances and possibly an emergence of a much-required formidable opposition against the ruling BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in 2019.

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