A JOINT Opposition rally held here in Haryana Sunday saw leader after leader seek a united front against the BJP, with JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar saying the Congress should be part of any such coalition. The Congress was not invited for the rally, organised by the INLD.
Apart from Nitish, the Bihar Chief Minister who recently left the NDA, the rally was attended by INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, the Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal, RJD leader and Bihar Deputy CM Tejaswi Yadav, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant. The Trinamool Congress said it had sent a representative. Also present was Mevar Kumar Jamatia of the IPFT, a tribal party that is a BJP ally in Tripura (IPFT sources claimed surprise at Jamatia’s presence at the rally).
The rally was organised by the INLD as a major show of strength in its bid to make a comeback in the state, where it has fallen behind even its own breakaway faction led by Dushyant Chautala. The occasion was the birth anniversary of Haryana strongman and Chautala’s father Devi Lal, who had made it to deputy prime ministership as part of an Opposition coalition. Many of the leaders present at Sunday’s rally represented offshoots of that coalition.
Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik, who has been speaking out against the BJP government at the Centre, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and former Jammu and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah sent messages expressing their respect for Devi Lal.
Addressing the impressive gathering hours ahead of his meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi along with Lalu, Nitish said: “It is not about a third front, it is going to be a Mahagathbandhan, the main gathbandhan (front).” Expressing confidence that such a coalition would emerge victorious, he said: “If all these parties get together, they (the BJP) won’t be able to win the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.”
Stating that “in Bihar, seven parties are united; only one party (BJP) is separate”, Nitish said: “We all have to join hands across the country, fight together. I would like to seek the blessings of Om Prakash Chautala, and urge that he get more and more Opposition parties together… Then only will this country be rid of those who are determined to ruin it.”
Nitish expressed happiness at Badal’s presence at the rally, and said: “We have spoken at length with Sharad Pawarji, I told him he should do what he feels is right.”
A few days ago, Pawar suggested that TMC chief Mamata Banerjee was ready to bury the hatchet with the Congress, a major hurdle so far in larger Opposition unity.
Accusing the BJP of a communal agenda and the media of helping it, the Bihar CM said: “They want to create a Hindu-Muslim divide, when actually there is no such fight. When the country got divided into two parts, did all the Muslims go there (to Pakistan)? No. More than those who went there, were those who stayed back here.”
Nitish also claimed that he wanted to give up chief ministership after parting with the BJP, but that he had been urged to stay on.
Tejashwi, Nitish’s Deputy CM, who drew the maximum cheers at the rally, said: “I have come with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and I thank him for the hammer he struck (at the BJP). The BJP is not going to be able to survive that.” Tejashwi complimented the people of Punjab for rejecting “Sanghis”. “They only talk about Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan, they don’t talk about giving MSP to farmers.”
He said the NDA was over. “Badalji was in the NDA, Nitishji was in the NDA. All of them are sitting here now.”
Pawar appealed to parties to get together in 2024 “and change this regime”. He raised the long farmer agitation against the three Central laws, which the government finally withdrew. “Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and western UP farmers sat on protest and knocked at Delhi’s doors for an year, but they were not heard. None of the assurances that were made to end the agitation have been fulfilled.”
Pawar expressed his sorrow at frequent news of farmer suicides. “That is not a solution, we need to remove the people who create such circumstances that force us to commit suicide.”
Yechury said that “if we want to save our nation, we have to remove the BJP from power”. “We need to tell our PM that the people of the nation are owners of public sector companies and he is just their manager. If a manager tries to sell assets owned by the people, they replace the manager.”
Referring to Kerala where the CPM is part of the LDF government, Yechury said: “It is the only state where we have a government. There is not a single elected BJP legislator there. We need to bring the same to the entire country.”
Badal recalled the contributions of Devi Lal, Chautala, his father Parkash Singh Badal and the other leaders present on the stage. “It is only these parties who can take care of the downtrodden, farmers and poor of the country.”
In his address, Om Prakash Chautala focused on the INLD’s promises if it came to power. “We shall give Rs 10,000 monthly old age pension, Rs 1,000 per month to women, and get SYL water to Haryana within a year,” he said, adding that they would also ensure “all crops are purchased at MSP, and in mandis”.