INC interim chief Sonia Gandhi today chaired a virtual meeting of the leaders of opposition parties in order to evolve a common strategy against the ruling BJP-led NDA government ahead of several key state elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha poll.
Saying that the ultimate goal is the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the INC president stressed that opposition parties “have to begin planning systematically with the objective of giving to our country a government that believes in the values of the freedom movement and in the principles and provisions of our constitution”.
Besides INC, representatives of 18 opposition parties attended the meeting. It also witnessed the participation of chief ministers of four states — Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), MK Stalin (Tamil Nadu), Uddhav Thackeray (Maharashtra), and Hemant Soren (Jharkhand).
In her opening remark, Sonia Gandhi blamed the government’s “obstinate and arrogant unwillingness to discuss and debate urgent issues of public importance” for the parliament’s complete washout. “In spite of this, the session was marked by the determined unity that all opposition parties demonstrated for over twenty days in both the houses. We functioned in a coordinated manner with daily discussions among our floor leaders,” she said.
The opposition unity was on display during the recently-concluded monsoon session of Sansad when they took on the government to seek a discussion on the Pegasus snooping row, besides the farm laws and other issues.
The INC chief said the monsoon session of the parliament was a washout entirely due to the government’s “obstinate and arrogant unwillingness to discuss and debate urgent issues of public importance” such as the Pegasus row, a repeal of three “anti-farmer” laws, price rise, the assault on federalism and the institutions of democracy that affect each and every citizen of the country.
Despite this, the ‘determined unity’ that all the opposition parties demonstrated for over 20 days in both the houses marked the session, she said.
“We functioned in a coordinated manner with daily discussions among our floor leaders.
“I am confident that this unity will be sustained in the future sessions of Parliament as well, but the larger political battle has to be fought outside it,” Gandhi said.
She claimed that it was entirely due to the opposition parties that the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill was passed to restore the long-standing rights of the states to identify and notify the other backward classes (OBCs).
The INC chief blamed the government, saying the bill was required to rectify the mistake it committed three years ago and a subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court. She also said that, following their intervention, crucial changes were made in the policy of procurement of Covid-19 vaccines, but as always, someone else has taken the credit.
Gandhi said Pawar had raised the issue of the creation of the Ministry of Cooperation with the government. She called it a blatant interference in the constitutional rights and responsibilities of the states.
She expressed confidence in such opposition unity in upcoming parliament sessions but emphasised that the larger political battle had to be fought outside it.
In the meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee proposed to form a core group of opposition leaders to decide on joint movements against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Virtually attending the meeting, the Trinamool INC supremo asked the opposition leaders to keep aside differences and put up a united fight against the saffron party.
“Let us forget who is the leader, let us keep our personal interests aside. Every opposition party should be brought in. People are the leader. Let us set up a core group and work together to decide on the next line of action and programmes,” a senior Trinamool Congress leader quoted her as saying.
Banerjee raised the issue of how “impartial institutions like the NHRC has been misused by the central government to malign opposition ruled state governments”. She also raised the farmers’ issue and torture allegedly unleashed by the Centre against states ruled by opposition parties, another Trinamool Congress leader said.
Other key leaders who attended today’s meeting include National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, LJD’s Sharad Yadav, and CPM’s Sitaram Yechury. However, no one from SP joined the meeting.
It comes in the backdrop of the government demanding strict action against those who indulged in unruly behaviour in the Rajya Sabha during the passage of the Insurance Amendment Bill.
Curiously, Sonia Gandhi called the meeting shortly after INC leader Kapil Sibal, one from the Group of 23 which have been seeking sweeping changes in the party, hosted a similar dinner meet where leading opposition leaders called for unity among like-minded parties to defeat the BJP.
Opposition parties to jointly organise protests all over the country, 20-30 September
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the opposition parties said they will jointly organise protests all over the country in the period 20-30 September.
“The forms of these public protest actions will be decided by the respective state units of our parties, depending on the concrete conditions of the Covid regulations and protocols existing in the states. These forms, amongst others, may include dharnas, protest demonstrations, hartals etc.
“We, the leaders of 19 opposition parties, call upon the people of India to rise to the occasion to defend our secular, democratic, republican order with all our might. Save India today, so that we can change it for a better tomorrow,” they added.