With eyes on Opposition unity for 2024 general elections, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday flew around the country to hold meetings with fellow Opposition leaders Akhilesh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee.
Nitish on Monday met West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow. The meetings are seen as bid to rekindle JP's 'total revolution' by cobbling together a coalition of Opposition parties.
Nitish's meetings with Mamata and Akhilesh come within 12 days of him holding talks with Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi Mallikarjun Kharge in New Delhi. These meetings indicate that both the regional satraps are now willing to give up their apathy towards Congress and agree to a rainbow coalition ahead of the 2024 elections.
Analysts believe Nitish has started gearing up as a catalyst for unity after his Delhi meeting as he believes that without Congress as the centre-piece an opposition front may not work. The Congress too has in recent months said the Grand Old Party would be the "fulcrum" of any Opposition alliance.
Mamata Banerjee proposed all-party meet
Mamata who held a nearly hour-long meeting with Nitish accompanied by his deputy and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav mooted the idea of an all-Opposition party meet in Bihar to commemorate socialist leader Jayprakash Narayan (JP)’s 'total revolution' movement launched some 49 years ago, which would give out a "message of opposition unity".
VIDEO | "All are together. All parties will work together to fight the BJP," says West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee in joint press conference with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav. pic.twitter.com/CgC3JjUsOz— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) April 24, 2023
"I have made just one request to Nitish Kumar. Jayaprakash ji's movement started from Bihar. If we have an all-party meeting in Bihar, we can then decide where we have to go next," said Mamata after emerging from the meeting at her state secretariat Nabanna.
Mamata added that the first meeting would be "gharoa" (informal) and issues like common manifesto etc could come later.
She said, "I want BJP to become zero. They have become a big hero with the media's support, lies and fake videos...We have to give the message that we are all together."
Nitish described the discussions with his Bengal counterpart as "positive".
"It was a very positive discussion... Opposition parties need to sit together and strategise," he said.
After his afternoon meeting with Banerjee, Nitish and Tejashwi flew down to Lucknow to meet Akhilesh Yadav.
Asked there if any decision has been taken on who will lead the joint front, Nitish said, "No, once the unity takes place, the leader will be decided. And whosoever becomes the leader will work in the interest of the country. And, one thing I would like to tell you … I don't want anything for myself. I will work in the interest of the country. There will be other people as well, and we will sit and decide."
All are together: Mamata on role of Congress
After the Kolkata meeting, when queried about the involvement of the Congress in the Opposition unity plans, Mamata said, "All are together … the country’s people will fight against the BJP."
She added: "I do not have a personal ego (to work with any party). Nitish ji will be talking to other opposition parties as I am also talking to people."
Earlier both TMC and Samajwadi Party had taken a stance of being equi-distant between Congress and the BJP after a meeting between Mamata and Akhilesh at her Kalighat residence a month back. However, the stance has been shifting ever since Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from his Lok Sabha membership.
Mamata Banerjee has held similar meetings
Mamata has lately held similar meetings with Odisha CM Naveen Patnaikn and former Karnataka CM and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy.
Last week, Mamata had also telephoned Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin and proposed that there be a meeting of all the opposition parties.
While details of the afternoon discussion held at Bengal’s state secretariat were scanty with the leaders preferring to speak on the broader consensus, sources said the two sides used the meeting to figure out how they would proceed in sewing together a coalition that would be workable ahead of the elections.
"Nothing is being done for India's development, those ruling are only interested in their own advertisement," claimed Nitish after the Kolkata meeting.
Backing Nitish's views in Lucknow, Akhilesh alleged that due to the "wrong economic policies" of the BJP, the poor are suffering and price rise and unemployment are "at an all-time high".
"The BJP should be removed and the country be saved, and we are with you in this campaign," said Akhilesh.
Opposition leaders have been critical of rising unemployment, the falling value of the rupee and rising prices as well as the spending on government advertisements.
Nitish also launched a broadside against what the Opposition has been describing as an attempt to change India's history by the right-wing BJP and said, "We have to take the country's history, its struggle for freedom to the next generation."
He added, "We do not know if they (BJP) will alter the country's history or do what next, we have to be alert," referring to the changes in school history textbooks.
The BJP dubbed the meeting a "futile exercise" and asserted that such an "opportunistic alliance" would not yield any result.
"We had seen such efforts in 2014 and 2019, and the results are before us. These are futile exercises which will not yield any result. The people of this country trust the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi," BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.
(With PTI inputs)