Sending a clear message to some parties in the Opposition which are pursuing the idea of a non-Congress front against the BJP, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Sunday met Congress president Sonia Gandhi — a rare such interaction among the three — and asked her to take the lead in bringing together an Opposition front.
Their meeting with Sonia came days after NCP chief Sharad Pawar said that Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was ready to bury her differences with the Congress in national interest, and come together to form an alliance of Opposition parties ahead of the 2024 general elections.
Even while agreeing that a credible anti-BJP front is not possible by keeping the Congress out, some Opposition leaders have been suggesting that the virtually defunct UPA be revived and that leadership roles — like that of convenor — be given to regional chieftains to make the alliance broad-based.
Nitish and Lalu on Sunday suggested Sonia should take the lead in nudging the parties together on one page. “Together we met and held discussions with madam and you know that we believe several parties of the country should unite and work together for the country and its progress. We discussed all these issues… But now elections for their party’s (the Congress’s) president is underway… She will say something, finally, after all that,” Nitish told reporters after the meeting with Sonia.
“The BJP has to be ousted to save the country. Everyone has to unite, like we came together in Bihar, and send the BJP packing. It has found a response across the country. We are together and we requested Soniaji that you (the Congress) are the largest party… aap isme sab ko bulaiyiye (you call everyone for this). Together we will sit and talk and send off the BJP,” Lalu said.
Nitish said there could be more meetings after the Congress organisational elections.
Among the Opposition parties, while the Aam Aadmi Party has maintained its distance from a front, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and INLD are said to be in favour of a non-Congress coalition. The Left parties have been of the view that a national front to provide an alternative to the BJP is possible only after the elections. In the stand taken by the parties are their own respective compulsions. The Congress is one of the main rivals of the TRS and INLD in Telangana and Haryana, respectively, while the Left can’t share the stage with the Congress in Kerala and with the TMC in Bengal.
But Pawar’s statement that Mamata was ready to work with the Congress signals that considerable groundwork has already been done to iron out differences. Asked about parties like AAP, Nitish said: “Vichar ekta ka hi hai (the thinking is of unity)… there is no issue in that. But to say something, kahan, kahan kaun, kaun (where and who), that will take some more days,” he said.
Lalu, who has been part of the UPA before, has enjoyed cordial relations with Sonia for long, though this was after some gap that the two leaders (who have both been ailing) met. It is perhaps the first time though that Nitish, who was part of the NDA till recently, was part of such a meeting, especially on issues regarding Opposition unity.
Lalu said Sonia told them she will meet them again with the new Congress chief after the party presidential elections are over. “The Congress has always been against the BJP. The country is heading towards dictatorship. Issues are not being resolved. There is poverty, unemployment. No attention is being paid towards those issues, and instead Opposition leaders across the country are being jailed. Nobody is going to be scared. We will meet her again,” Lalu said.
Asked how Opposition parties can be united given the differences among them, Nitish said: “The parties that we are talking to… we certainly tell them that we all need to unite. It will take some time. Now we are just giving suggestions.”
The meeting incidentally came hours after several Opposition leaders, including Nitish and Lalu’s son Tejashwi, shared the stage at an INLD event in Haryana’s Fatehabad to mark the 109th birth anniversary of the late Choudhary Devi Lal, the former Deputy Prime Minister. The Congress was not invited for the rally.