TDP leader and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who has been reaching out to Opposition parties in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, met Congress president Rahul Gandhi Thursday as part of an exercise to stitch an alliance against the ruling BJP, saying there’s “democratic compulsion” and “we have to join together to protect the country”.
Fundamentally opposed to the Congress, and a lead player in the formation of the 1996 United Front government, Naidu called the Congress “the principal Opposition party” and said “we want to organise all those parties opposing the BJP… I have proposed all political parties have one meeting on a common platform”.
Earlier in the day, Naidu met NCP chief Sharad Pawar and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah with the suggestion for a common platform. After meeting Rahul Gandhi, Naidu met Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav. Naidu said his meeting with them was fruitful and that they had promised to support his plans. Late in the night, Naidu also met CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.
Naidu has embraced Congress at a time when both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav have chosen to keep safe distance from the Congress in the run-up to 2019. His initiative also comes at a time when Pawar has been making efforts to emerge as a pivot to a non-BJP coalition.
Rahul Gandhi called his meeting with Naidu “a momentous occasion” and said the two parties were ready to forget the past to take on the BJP. He said the Congress and TDP will “work together” in the Telangana assembly elections and the Lok Sabha polls.
I had a good meeting today with Shri Chandrababu Naidu. Amongst other things, we discussed the issue of opposition unity. I look forward to carrying forward our dialogue and to working together in the upcoming state & general elections. pic.twitter.com/wNowJhP4sm
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 1, 2018
“The gist of the meeting was that we have to defend democracy and institutions of this country. We have to defend the future of this country. So we are coming together. We are going to work together and all Opposition forces are going to work together to defend India,” Gandhi said after the meeting.
Asked about the animosity between their two parties, Gandhi said: “We have had a past. But both of us agreed that we are not going to get into the past. We are going to talk about the present and future because it is critical for our country. We have agreed that the principal idea here is to defeat the BJP and to defend democracy and the institutions of this country. All other ideas will be discussed later.”
Naidu said his decision to reach out to the Congress was a “democratic compulsion”. He had earlier met Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad at the Delhi airport which the TDP called “coincidental”.
“Congress party is the main, principal Opposition party. We are all there, we will sit together and chalk out a programme. We have our own base. But it is a reality we have to understand, that the Congress party is the main Opposition. And all other parties are necessary. So we will work on these things. Our motive is to save the nation,” he said.
The development is significant given that TDP has repeatedly said that N T Rama Rao formed the party in the early 1980s because the Congress had “insulted the Telugu people”. The party even withstood the 1984 Congress wave in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The two parties have different and competing vote bases and have often engaged in political violence in Andhra Pradesh.
When a reporter asked Rahul Gandhi why no other Opposition party was supporting his party’s stand on the Rafale fighter purchase, he said: “Naiduji will answer this.”
— N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) November 1, 2018
Naidu, on his part, said: “Rahulji has supported the issues of Andhra Pradesh related to bifurcation (of the state). We are all in agreement. We are all concerned about what’s happening to institutions. That’s why Rahulji is taking the lead on Rafale and other issues. Other parties are talking about it. Even I am talking. In national forum, a single voice will ring. It will have tremendous impact. We will do that.”
He said the situation had arisen because the Modi government was “destroying all institutions”.
“We want to organise all those parties opposing the BJP. We want to chalk out a programme for the future. I have been in politics for the last 40 years. Never have I witnessed this type of administration. They are demolishing all institutions one by one: RBI, CBI, ED, IT, even Supreme Court. I have proposed all political parties have one meeting on a common platform,” Naidu said.
Earlier, Naidu met Pawar and Farooq Abdullah. At a joint press conference, the three leaders said they were looking at ways to come together “to protect the future of the nation”. Abdullah said that the parties would “work on a common minimum programme” to take on the BJP in the 2019 elections.
Pawar said they had discussed the issue of the “assault on institutions” such as CBI, ED and RBI. “The situation is deteriorating day by day. Chandrababu has suggested that we should all come together and discuss it. We have decided to call all non-BJP parties to discuss a way out and save democracy.”
Akhilesh Yadav said: “We had a good meeting with Naiduji. We hope to keep meeting like this. It is through meetings and talks that new ways are found in a democracy. Democracy is in danger. All parties need to come together to save it. The BJP has been ruling through deceit.”