Opposition Inches Towards 2024 Goal With 19-Party Meet Chaired by Sonia Gandhi

'This is a challenge, but together we can and must rise to it because there is simply no alternative to working cohesively together.'

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New Delhi: In what could possibly herald a new political dynamic, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi on Friday, August 20, urged all opposition parties to bury differences and come together to fight the BJP in the 2024 parliamentary elections.

In a virtual opposition meeting that saw 19 political parties participating, Gandhi said that current political circumstances are such that all opposition forces will have to “rise above compulsions” to work together, adding that there was no other option. 

“We all have our compulsions, but clearly, a time has come when the interests of our nation demand that we rise above them,” the Congress president said in the meeting which saw 19 opposition parties participating.

Her statement may be considered a big climb down on the part of the grand old party, as it has often played a domineering role over regional parties, which have until now affected attempts to forge a united opposition front. The Congress appears to have taken off from similar efforts by the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee last month.

“In politics, there are times when all have to bury their differences and come together for the sake of the country. This is that time,” Banerjee had said at a press meet in the national capital last month. Gandhi’s statements on Friday echo the Trinamool Congress chief’s remarks.  

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Among those who participated in the opposition meeting on Friday, apart from the Congress, were Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), National Conference, Rashtriya Janata Dal, All India United Democratic Front, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, Loktantrik Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Secular), Rashtriya Lok Dal, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Kerala Congress (Mani), People’s Democratic Party, and Indian Union Muslim League. 

Banerjee, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav and Left leader Sitaram Yechury represented their parties in the meeting.

Although parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal, Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), YSR Congress, or Telangana Rashtra Samithi stayed out of the meeting, the gathering still assumes importance in the light of how almost all opposition parties stood together against the Union government in the recently-concluded monsoon session of the parliament. The Narendra Modi government had to face all-round opposition from various quarters of the opposition on the issues of contentious farm laws, price rise, and illegal use of Pegasus spyware on Indian citizens. 

It is against this backdrop that Gandhi’s remarks urging non-BJP parties to “plan systematically” for the 2024 general elections together shows renewed resolve in the opposition ranks.

Citing that 2024 polls were the “ultimate goal”, Gandhi said, “This is a challenge, but together we can and must rise to it because there is simply no alternative to working cohesively together.”

She added that all opposition parties should begin planning the elections “with the single-minded objective of giving to our country a government that believes in the values of the Freedom Movement and in the principles and provisions of our constitution.”

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Opposition parties had met to decide the course of protests in the parliament several times during the latest session of the parliament. Ahead of that, on May 12, 2021, the parties had sent off a joint letter to the Prime Minister to demand a faster vaccination drive, repeal of the three farm laws, and free distribution of food-grains during the pandemic.  

Gandhi reminded all the leaders of those initiatives, “In recent months we have issued two public statements jointly on various national issues of common concern. Our joint statement of May 23rd, 2021 covered the COVID-19 pandemic and the one on May 2nd, 2021 dealt with the repeal of the three anti-farmer laws and the need to resume of talks by the Government with the Samyukta Kisan Morcha.

“Some of you also have taken up matters of public importance with the Prime Minister directly.” 

She also spoke about various issues raised by other opposition forces, citing Pawar’s opposition to the newly-formed ministry of cooperation, which he thought may infringe upon the state government’s independence. She also pointed out that non-BJP governments, including those run by Banerjee and Thackeray, have spoken about “the discrimination against non-BJP ruled states in vaccine supply”. 

“The recent Monsoon Session of parliament was a complete washout again entirely due to the Government’s obstinate and arrogant unwillingness to discuss and debate urgent issues of public importance,” Gandhi said, adding that the session saw a “determined unity” of opposition parties, which “functioned in a coordinated manner with daily discussions among our floor leaders.”

RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav emphasised that there has to be renewed efforts to take opposition issues more effectively and creatively to people, realising the need for better communication.

Meanwhile, Banerjee advocated that even though some other opposition parties may not have shown keenness to join an United opposition front because of their rivalry with the Congress in their respective states, those present in the meeting should create more channels to bring them on board.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who had confirmed his participation in the meeting earlier, expressed his inability to join the meeting because he was travelling in the interiors of the poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. However, he said that SP would be willing to join hands with a possible united front against BJP.

Joint Statement of Opposition Leaders by The Wire on Scribd