A meeting of some leaders of Opposition parties and public intellectuals to be convened at the residence of Sharad Pawar’s Delhi residence, on Tuesday, has once again triggered rumours of the NCP supremo taking the lead in stitching up a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition. That news of Tuesday’s meeting became public soon after Pawar had another round of discussions with election strategist Prashant Kishor has further added heft to the speculations over a possible federal front being cobbled together. However, former union minister and Trinamool Congress leader Yashwant Sinha, who will co-chair the meeting with Pawar, has told Outlook that Tuesday’s deliberations have “nothing to do with Prashant Kishor” and that discussion on forming a electoral alliance of Opposition parties, minus the Congress, “is not on the agenda”.
The meeting, says Sinha, is being convened under the banner of Rashtra Manch, a “non electoral” outfit launched by him after his bitter parting with the BJP in 2018. Sinha told Outlook that leaders of several Opposition parties have been associated with Rashtra Manch since it was formed. The platform was constituted to discuss “various issues of national interest and importance.” Sinha said, adding that due to Covid, Rashtra Manch “members had not been able to meet over the past 15 months” and an interaction was “long due and is finally being convened now.”
On why the meeting was being held at Pawar’s residence and not his own, especially since Pawar has not been a Rashtra Manch member, Sinha said, “I had discussed with Majeed Memon (Rajya Sabha member from the NCP) about convening a meeting of the Rashtra Manch since he is one of our founding members and he suggested that since Pawar has expressed a desire to meet members of the Manch, we could have the interaction at Pawar’s residence and I agreed.” Sinha said he is “not aware of where rumours about discussions of forming a third front have come from… as far as I know, this meeting has nothing to do with Prashant Kishor or the possibility of forming a federal front.”
While Tuesday’s meeting will have leaders of various Opposition parties in attendance, Sinha says “most of them” have been invited in their individual capacity as members of the Rashtra Manch and that no formal invitations have been sent out to political parties per se for attending the discussions. Samajwadi Party’s Ghanshyam Tiwari, Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Chaudhary, former JD (U) leader Pavan Verma, NCP’s Majeed Memon are some of the Opposition leaders who are likely to attend Tuesday’s meeting as all of them are founding members of the Manch. Congress MP Manish Tewari, his party colleague and Sinha’s confidante Shatrughan Sinha – both members of the Manch – are unlikely to be present at the meeting, it is learnt. While Tewari is presently on a tour of his constituency, Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, Shatrughan Sinha will not be present at the interaction because of a “prior commitment”. Another founding member of the Manch, former Union minister Dinesh Trivedi, who joined the BJP after quitting the Trinamool Congress some months ago, will not be present at the meeting.
While Sinha insists that the meeting has been convened primarily to discuss “issues of national importance and those emanating from the ongoing political and social circumstances across the country”, the temptation to dismiss it merely as just another interaction between like-minded politicians from different political parties is too hard to resist. With the principal Opposition party, the Congress, still struggling to set its house in order amid renascent revolts in its Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and sundry other units, rumour mills have been churning round the clock on whether regional satraps and leaders of various Opposition parties not aligned to the Congress or the BJP can attempt a rainbow coalition to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The recently concluded assembly polls have further proved that while the Congress is continuing to sink deeper into its organisational and electoral morass, other regional parties are successfully holding out against Modi’s saffron tide. Mamata Banerjee’s stunning sweep in Bengal against an aggressive BJP with the help of Kishor’s electoral strategy and the onslaught she has faced from the BJP-led Centre ever since has led many political commentators and Opposition leaders to speculate whether she can emerge as the face of a united opposition front against Modi. A meeting between Pawar and Kishor, who has also been instrumental in the electoral wins of other non-NDA constituents and leaders like YSR Congress’s Jagan Mohan Reddy, AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and DMK’s MK Stalin, was enough to send rumours into overdrive over the NCP supremo using Kishor’s good offices to send out feelers to like-minded political parties for allying against the BJP.
Samajwadi Party’s Ghanshyam Tiwari, a founding member of the Manch who will also be present at Pawar’s residence on Tuesday, says though the much-talked about meeting is “unlikely to discuss formation of alliances, discussions will be held on the present political situation and how to best combat the BJP.” He said former diplomat KC Singh, former Union minister and another expelled BJP leader Arun Shourie and some other civil society members are also likely to attend the meeting at Pawar’s residence.