In what appears to be a signal that the Trinamool Congress does not want to play second fiddle to the Congress at the national stage, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has invited leaders of 19 political parties to a meeting in Delhi next Wednesday to produce a “confluence of Opposition voices” for the presidential election.
The move surprised and upset the main opposition Congress, which had begun an exercise to reach out to like-minded parties including the TMC. Sources in the party wondered about the need for Banerjee to have taken such an initiative. It is learnt that a senior Congress leader has conveyed the party’s unease to the TMC. Left parties, too, were not impressed by Banerjee’s move.
The Congress put out a statement saying its president Sonia Gandhi had “reached out and deliberated the issue of the upcoming presidential election with Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and some other Opposition leaders” and “as per her discussions with other opposition leaders, she (has) deputed the Mallikarjun Kharge to coordinate with other leaders in view of her ill health owing to Covid.”
“The Congress Party is of the opinion that the nation needs a person as President who can protect the Constitution, our institutions and citizenry from the ongoing onslaught by the ruling party. This is the need of the hour. While the Congress Party has not suggested a particular name, we owe it to our people to elect a President who can apply a healing touch to its fractured social fabric and defend our Constitution,” the statement said.
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It is to be seen whether senior leaders of the Congress, its allies like NCP, DMK, Shiv Sena and the JMM and that of the Left will attend the meeting.
“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 and 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 HD 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).
Banerjee wrote: “The election is monumental because it gives legislators the opportunity to participate in deciding the Head of our State who is the custodian of our democracy. At a time when our democracy is going through troubling times, I believe that a fruitful confluence of Opposition voices is the need of the hour; to echo the deprived and unrepresented communities.”
Banerjee’s invitation to Patnaik, whom BJP is counting among its potential supporters outside NDA, signifies an attempt on her part to broaden the Opposition umbrella. The decision to reach out to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) also seems to reflect that.
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