The Opposition conclave, scheduled for November 22, has been deferred due to a disinclination of leaders of various parties to attend the meeting, it is learnt.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader N Chandrababu Naidu had made no secret of the fact that he was keen on a mega-Opposition show in Delhi on November 22 “because of the elections” in five states. But leaders of other opposition parties wanted to avoid it ostensibly for the same reason.
Most of them preoccupied with their respective parties’ election campaign in these states, they were not prepared to take time off to come to Delhi for the meeting, sources said.
Besides, the sources added, at a time when their candidates are locked in electoral battles against one another, any attempt to project an Opposition unity in Delhi was bound to be seen as unconvincing. “How can we hold our hands for a picture-opportunity when we are involved in mutual criticism (in election campaigns),” a senior leader from an opposition party asked.
In Kolkata, addressing the media after his meeting with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Naidu conceded as much, stating that the scheduled meeting has been put off due to the Vidhan Sabha elections, and that they will meet before the Winter Session of Parliament gets under way.
With Mamata by his side, Naidu said, “We earlier wanted to meet on November 22 but (now) want to meet before the next Parliament session due to the Assembly polls. The date (of rescheduled meet) will be announced soon — we will discuss everything and chalk out a programme to take this momentum further.”
Asked whether BSP chief Mayawati will be part of the Opposition conclave, Naidu said, “All these things will be discussed later. We are in touch with Mayawati-ji and everyone (else).”
Sources, however, said Opposition leaders felt that Naidu was in a tearing hurry to acquire the Opposition shield fearing trouble from the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Despite the anti-Congress history of the Telugu Desam, Naidu had called on Congress president Rahul Gandhi to put together a broad anti-BJP front to take on the BJP in next year’s General Election.
He had kept up the momentum by meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar, National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, DMK leader M K Stalin, and Janata Dal (Secular) chief H D Deve Gowda.
Sources said Opposition leaders did not want to publicly snub Naidu but they did not have any sympathy for him either. Should the Narendra Modi government go after him, the sources said, leaders of the Congress, Left parties and others could be trusted to extend some lip sympathy to him and watch.
Naidu, in their view, had had the best of both worlds, having first shared power with the BJP for four years and now trying to become its key vocal critic. Moreover, they had no intention to hold any brief for Naidu in case he was found to have indulged in corruption.
The non-BJP parties, by and large, remain steadfast in their opposition to the saffron outfit, but no one is interested in allowing Naidu to become the nucleus of their joint activities, sources indicated.
In Kolkata, Naidu told the media, “I came here to meet Mamata-ji. Today we, as senior leaders, have some responsibility to save the nation, to save democracy – we have to protect the institutions…. There is a democratic compulsion to join together. Institutions are under severe pressure and threat — the CBI, the ED, Income Tax Department or the RBI, each institution is under pressure.”
Naidu also confirmed that he will attend the January 19 rally at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, being organised by Mamata’s Trinamool Congress party to strengthen Opposition unity ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Asked who will be the face of the Opposition grand alliance, if it materialises, Mamata said, “Everybody will be the face of this Mahagathbandhan.”
Mamata also said, “This is not the first time we are working together. We went together in Karnataka as well. Today we discussed the future plan of action. We are working together, speaking together and we are sticking together. We will work against the BJP to save the nation. He (Naidu) has assured us that he will attend the Brigade rally on January 19. Except one or two parties, everyone has confirmed.”
Slamming both Naidu and Mamata, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said, “People have understood that those who are corrupt have forged a unity to save themselves from the CBI. People are not with this (Opposition) unity, so it does not matter whether they hold a meeting here, or somewhere else.”
Naidu, however, refused to elaborate on his government’s decision to withdraw the ‘general consent’ accorded to the CBI to conduct searches or investigations in the state. “It is a state matter and that is our discretion. Because it (CBI top officers’ case) is in the Supreme Court, we want to answer this at an appropriate time,” he said.
The West Bengal government had followed Andhra Pradesh and withdrawn general consent accorded to CBI.
(With Santanu Chowdhury in Kolkata)