In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2019, leaders of Opposition parties once again came together for a mega rally in a bid to showcase a united third front to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government. The venue this time was New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar and the host was Aam Aadmi Party and its national convener Arvind Kejriwal. This get-together comes close on the heels of a similar rally organised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata that was attended by a number of Opposition leaders.
Kejriwal’s rally saw leaders from across the country, including Mamata Banerjee, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. Leaders from Samajwadi Party, DMK, RLD and RJD also joined the Opposition’s show of strength.
Congress also lent its support to the rally with senior party leader Anand Sharma sharing the stage with Mamata and Naidu. While party president Rahul Gandhi had skipped the January 19 mahagathbandhan rally organised by Mamata in Kolkata, senior party leaders Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Mallikarjun Kharge had represented the party at the event. “All opposition leaders will attend this rally that is being held against the Modi government. It will be attended by all those who had attended Mamata’s rally last month,” senior AAP leader Gopal Rai was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
As the Opposition leaders flock together today under the banner of “Remove Dictatorship, Save Country,” here are the other instances when they projected a united face over the past year.
1. N Chandrababu Naidu’s Delhi dharna
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu’s fast on February 11 to demand special status for his state became a rallying point for Opposition unity. Rahul Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh, former PM H D Deve Gowda, Delhi CM and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, NCP’s Majeed Memon, TMC’s Derek O’Brien, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav reached out to Naidu at Andhra Bhawan in New Delhi.
2. Mamata’s ‘Save India, Save democracy’ rally in Kolkata
From her home turf in West Bengal, CM Mamata Banerjee launched a scathing attack against the Modi government saying it has “crossed its expiry date.” Twenty Opposition parties joined her at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata with a shared agenda of taking on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. “This gathbandhan (alliance) has been formed to save the people of the nation and give them justice. Everyone has to come together for the sake of the nation. Whichever party is powerful in a certain state should be allowed and strongly supported to fight the BJP there,” Banerjee said.
Farooq Abdullah, Deve Gowda, Arvind Kejriwal, N Chandrababu Naidu, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, Sharad Yadav, DMK’s M K Stalin, AIUDF’s Badruddin Ajmal and JMM’s Hemant Soren were among those who not only shared the stage with Banerjee, but also touched upon how they could take the Opposition unity forward before the Lok Sabha elections. Kharge, who represented the Congress, read out UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s message.
Banerjee, who has emerged as one of the most formidable voices of the opposition against the Centre, also got Opposition’s support when she sat on a dharna last week. Alleging a coup against her government, the ‘Save India, Save Democracy’ dharna was over the showdown between the Kolkata police and the CBI. Mamata found support from leaders across the political spectrum who attacked the Modi government for “misusing the agencies.” While N Chandrababu Naidu, Tejashwi Yadav, DMK leader Kanimozhe paid a visit to Banerjee, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav expressed their support for the CM.
3. Opposition unites against EVM
As many as 21 Opposition parties approached the Election Commission over the EVM issue in mid-January. The delegation, including Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge, and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, told the poll panel that an alarmingly high number of EVMs malfunctioned in the recent assembly elections and there was a mismatch between votes polled and votes counted in Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.
It demanded that 50 per cent of EVM results are matched and cross-checked with voter-verifiable paper audit trails (VVPATs) before the declaration of results in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The EC assured the parties that the issues raised by them would be “deliberated and examined”
4. Bonhomie during Rahul Gandhi’s bus ride
Buoyed by the Congress’ win in the three Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, Rahul Gandhi hopped in a bus with several opposition leaders as they together attended the swearing-in ceremonies in the three states.
Though leaders from across the political spectrum of the country, sans the BJP, claimed their seats, the absentees made more noise. The BSP which supported the Congress party in forming the government in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it fell slightly short of the majority mark, was missing. So was Akhilesh Yadav even as the SP supported the Congress in forming the government in Madhya Pradesh. Mamata has sent lawmaker Dinesh Trivedi to represent the Trinamool Congress at the swearing-in.
5. Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in
In what seemed like a first coming together of the Opposition, more than a dozen leaders reached Bengaluru to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy.
Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, Kejriwal, Chandrababu Naidu, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, IUML’s Kunhalikutty and Sharad Yadav were all on the stage. Besides the veterans, Kamal Haasan, a new entrant in Tamil Nadu politics, also attended the ceremony.
6. Sonia Gandhi’s dinner for Opposition
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi hosted a dinner for opposition parties in March last year. Prominent leaders in attendance were Sharad Pawar, Ram Gopal Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav, Hemant Soren, Jitan Ram Manijhi among others. The JD(S), which at that point in time was fighting the Congress in Karnataka, gave the dinner a miss.
“Much political talk but much more important — tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection,” Rahul Gandhi had written on Twitter while sharing pictures from the dinner.
The dinner had come at a time when the regional parties like the Trinamool Congress and Telangana Rashtra Samithi had floated the idea of “non-BJP, non-Congress third front”