A total of 17 parties are going to contest the 2024 general elections togather against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The announcement came after a four-hour-long meeting hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna.
Attended by top Opposition leaders of the country, the meeting in Patna was a result of months-long efforts to bring the Opposition parties to a common platform to put up a united front against the BJP. The idea of the meeting was floated by Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee when Nitish met her in April.
The host Nitish has criss-crossed the country in recent months to hold a series of meetings with the Opposition leaders. His meetings have been followed by visits from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who met leaders to garner support for AAP and against BJP over the Centre's ordinance overriding the Supreme Court order on the control of services and officers in Delhi.
The Opposition leaders on Friday decided that they would hold their meetings in Shimla in Himachal Pradesh and a common agenda of the coalition will be finalised in the meeting.
"We have come together in national interest; those in power at Centre are against national interest...Next meeting of opposition parties to be held in Shimla; future plan of action to be chalked out soon," PTI quoted Nitish as saying after the meeting.
Nitish presided over the meeting that was attended by top Opposition leaders, including Mamata, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Kejriwal, and DMK chief and Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin. He described the talks as "positive" and a "good meeting".
Speaking at the press conference after the meeting, Kharge said that the common agenda of the 17 parties would be finalised in the next meeting.
Political bigwigs arrived in Patna from all parts of the country. Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah arrived early in the morning, whereas many other leaders like Mehbooba Mufti, Mamata, Kejriwal, Bhagwant Mann, and Stalin have been camping in Patna since Thursday.
Other leaders who attended the meeting were Kharge, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav, Maharashtra's former CM Uddhav Thackeray, and NCP president Sharad Pawar. Earlier, a report said that Pawar would present a common minimum programme to the Opposition grouping.
On the other hand, BJP president J P Nadda said that leaders who were jailed by former prime minister Indira Gandhi during Emergency were now welcoming her grandson Rahul Gandhi. He said RJD supremo Lalu Prasad was jailed for 22 months, while Nitish Kumar was behind the bars for 20 months during the period.
Opposition meet in Patna: top 10 latest developments
1. Nitish said that almost everything would be finalised in the next meeting that would be chaired by Kharge.
He said, "Very positive talks were held today and we have decided to contest (Lok Sabha polls) together. Another meeting of all the (opposition) parties will be held to decide the next course of action. In that meeting, almost everything will be finalised. Mallikarjun Kharge will chair that meeting early next month...We have come together in national interest; those in power at Centre are against national interest."
Kharge, who will preside over the next meeting, echoed Nitish. He said, "We all are trying to come to a common agenda to fight together. We will next meet on July 10 or 12 in Shimla again...Common agenda for fighting 2024 LS polls together to be finalised in next meeting."
2. The meeting was presided over by Nitish and the idea of holding the meeting in Bihar was given by Mamata.
Speaking at the press conference, Mamata said, "I told Nitish Kumar to start a meeting from Patna and it will turn into a public movement. Last meeting, we held in Delhi but it wasn't fruitful. This meeting has been good...We have resolved on three things: We are united. We will fight unitedly. Don't call us opposition, we are also citizens of this country...We will fight together against the political vendetta of the BJP. Let our blood flow, but we will protect the people and the country. Next meeting will be held in Shimla."
Speaking of the symbolism of Bihar, NCP chief Sharad Pawar compared their movement with that of Jayaprakash Narayan.
He said, "Just like the JP movement, which started here (Patna), our united front will get the blessing of the people," said Pawar.
3. No decision on a prime ministerial candidate was taken in the meeting, said DMK chief and Tamil Nadu CM Stalin.
It had earlier been reported that the prime ministerial candidate would not be a subject of the meeting and it would only touch a common agenda.
4. Despite the announcement of a united front against the BJP, differences appear to have emerged between AAP and Congress over support against the Centre's ordinance over the control of services in Delhi.
In a sign of protest for lack of support from Congress over the ordinance, AAP skipped the press conference held after the meeting.
"The black ordinance is anti-constitutional, anti-federalism, and outright undemocratic... Congress' hesitation and refusal to act as a team player, especially on an issue as important as this one, would make it very difficult for the AAP to be a part of any alliance that includes Congress," the AAP said in a statement. Until the Congress publicly denounces the black ordinance and declares that all 31 of its RS MPs will oppose the ordinance in the Rajya Sabha, it will be difficult for AAP to participate in future meetings of like-minded parties where the Congress is a participant," said AAP in a statement, according to PTI.
5. Though the leaders of parties who attended the meeting hope to beat the BJP in the 2024 general elections, these parties together have less than 200 seats in Lok Sabha, notes PTI. The largest party Congress has 54 MPs in Lok Sabha.
Though these parties performed poorly in the 2019 Lok Sabha, a series of impressive performances in the assembly elections and the outcome of Bharat Jodo Yatra is seen as a booster by these parties.
Now riding high on its successes in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka and the response to Rahul Gandhi's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', the Congress is hopeful of a strong comeback. Two of the parties at the meeting -the RJD and CPI(ML) Liberation- had failed to win a single seat in the last Lok Sabha polls though both performed well in the Bihar assembly polls held a year later. With their alliance firmly intact, they hope to do well in the parliamentary elections too," noted PTI.
6. The united front against the BJP is in line with the formula floated by Mamata Banerjee.
Mamata earlier said that an Opposition party in its area of strength should be supported by all the other Opposition parties, such as Samajwadi Party being supported by all others in Uttar Pradesh and everyone supporting TMC in West Bengal. She had said that the Congress has a direct confrontation with the BJP in around 200 seats and it should be supported by all in those seats.
The idea behind the united front is to field joint candidates and consolidate all non-BJP votes.
7. Union Home Minister Amit Shah took a dig at the meeting and termed it as a "photo session".
"They (opposition) want to challenge PM Modi and NDA. I want to tell them that in 2024 PM Modi will become PM by winning more than 300 seats," he said.
8. The latest and among the most notable absentees from the meeting include Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati, who although wasn't invited, took a dig at all parties who would be attending the meeting. She said the Patna meeting is more about shaking hands than joining hearts - "Dil miley na miley, haath milatey rahiye".
In a series of tweets in Hindi, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said, "It is clear from the condition of Bahujans in the country that parties like the BJP and Congress are not capable of implementing the humanistic, egalitarian Constitution framed by B R Ambedkar."
The Samajwadi Party is the only party from Uttar Pradesh attending the meeting with BSP supremo Mayawati not being invited and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary set to skip the huddle due to a family programme.
9. Among the other significant absentees were the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD), HD Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) [JD(S)] and K Chandrashekar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).
BRS working president KT Rama Rao had told reporters that the party does not believe in forming a coalition against one man (Modi) and that they believe that third or fourth fronts do not work because each state has a different political situation. Elections in Telangana are slated for later this year in November, with Congress as the main opposition party for BRS.
10. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi acknowledged that there would be differences between the parties but they have decided to work together.
He said, "He said, "It is a battle of ideologies. Indeed, there will be differences amongst us but we have decided to work together and protect the ideologies shared by us."
Rahul also said that the Opposition unity is a process that will now move forward.
"Like Mallikarjun Kharge and Nitish Kumar said, we will take this discussion to more depth in the next meeting. The opposition unity is a process, which will move onwards from here," said Rahul.