Bengaluru: The two-day meeting of opposition parties began in Bengaluru this morning, with Congress leaders K.C. Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh, Karnataka deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar and Pawan Khera setting the agenda.
Venugopal said that while 17 parties attended the last Patna meeting on June 23, 26 parties will join the Bengaluru meeting. More parties are expected to join the united opposition front in the days to come, Congress general secretary (organisation) Venugopal said, adding that the aim of all opposition parties is to together defeat the BJP in the 2024 parliamentary elections.
The opposition gathering will informally begin with Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah hosting a dinner for all leaders on July 17. A formal meeting to chalk out the contours of the opposition front and its electoral strategy will be held on July 18.
I heartily welcome the leaders of the prominent opposition parties in the country who have come together to fight against authoritarianism, communalism, and corruption.
May the seeds sown in this peaceful garden of harmony bear the fruit to restore secular, socialist, and…
— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) July 17, 2023
Ramesh said that the increase in the number of parties attending the Bengaluru meeting indicates that there is no space in Indian politics to “remain neutral”.
Venugopal said the Bengaluru meeting will be a continuity of the “successful and fruitful” meeting at Patna on June 23. He said the Congress was only hosting the meeting, and that a common minimum agenda will be finalised only after each of the participating parties arrives at a consensus on all issues.
However, he said that the participating parties are on a common ground that the opposition front’s primary aim is “to defend constitutional rights and independence of institutions that are under unprecedented attack under the Narendra Modi regime”.
“They want to silence the opposition voices. Even as we meet here, a Tamil Nadu opposition leader is being raided by central agencies. The BJP government is misusing central agencies like ED, CBI to target opposition voices. They want to destabilise democratically elected governments by misusing central agencies,” Venugopal said.
“The disqualification of Rahul Gandhi is the biggest example of such misuse,” he added.
In a significant announcement, Venugopal that the opposition meeting will also chalk out a common floor strategy for the upcoming monsoon session of the Parliament, which is likely to be the first test to showcase unity in the opposition ranks.
“We are not here to attain power, but to move forward unitedly to challenge the attacks by the Modi government on our democratic country,” Venugopal said, emphasising that the united opposition front will be a “game changer” in Indian politics.
Ramesh said that the Patna meeting and the ongoing meeting in Bengaluru has forced the BJP to talk about the National Democratic Alliance again. He said that the BJP, which has shown only indifference to the idea of alliances, has now been forced by the opposition to think about the NDA again.
“A great beginning, a great start. The entire opposition, except a few, will be joining the meeting here. Joining ranks is a beginning. Thinking together is progress. The meeting will shape the future of the country,” Shivakumar said.
The leaders lampooned the prime minister’s continued silence on the Manipur ethnic conflict that has continued for more than two months.
On a question about a possible leader or a convenor of the front, both Venugopal and Ramesh asserted that “issues” are more important in forging opposition unity than having one leader.
“We have enough leaders. But we want to focus on the important issues that have brought us together and challenge the BJP. Our common agenda is to defeat the BJP,” Venugopal said.
Ramesh said that for all the BJP’s claims of having strong leadership, the prime minister hasn’t spoken a word on the Manipur crisis even as the state is burning for over two months. He said that the BJP’s primary idea is to deflect attention from more pertinent issues that the opposition has been raising.
The confusion through the morning of July 17 on whether Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, currently facing a crisis because of the defections of his party’s top leaders, will attend the meeting or not was cleared by Pawar himself in his tweet declaring that he will land in Bengaluru on July 18 to attend the meet.
“They (BJP) can divide the parties. But people will not tolerate. They did the same in Karnataka earlier. They took away our 15 MLAs. They targeted him (pointing at Shivakumar). But people will not tolerate such practices. You saw how people responded in Karnataka elections. They will do the same in Maharashtra too,” Venugopal said.