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Patna Opposition Meet Inside Story: Parties Downplay Differences, Focus On Unity

Barring the AAP vs Congress showdown over the ordinance issue, the opposition meet was about finding common terms.

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The grand Opposition meet on Friday in Patna functioned with largely one motto: focus on commonalities, ignore the differences.

Barring the AAP vs Congress showdown over the ordinance issue, the opposition meet was about finding common terms.

Parties which attended the opposition meet. 

(Namita Chauhan/ The Quint)

A total of 32 major leaders from 15 opposition parties showed up at what is being seen as a historic moment in the quest for Opposition unity in the country. While many of these come from different political ideologies —such as the Shiv Sena and CPI-ML— most of the political leaders emphasised on building a united front against the BJP, during the course of their discussions, sources said.

While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) versus Congress ordinance fiasco did cast a slight shadow on the attempt of a united front, even after the meeting was over, but the remaining portion of the meet was “mostly a smooth sailing”, sources added.

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How Parties Skirted Differences

First off, in the run up to the Opposition meet, there was a concern about the evident differences between the political parties. Even as the meet was taking place, BJP leaders were ridiculing the unlikeliness of the alliance.

“Communist parties don't like Mamata Banerjee; Mamata does not like Congress; Congress does not like Arvind Kejriwal; Kejriwal does not like Samajwadi Party (SP); SP does not like Uddhav; Uddhav does not like Mehbooba Mufti. They don't like each other and expect the people to like them,” Narottam Mishra, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister said, calling the proposed alliance a ‘thugbandhan.’

The Opposition meet began with JDU’s Nitish Kumar, who was the host of the meeting, saying a few words emphasising on the need to come to common terms.

While other leaders, like Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray all acknowledged the inherent differences in the ideologies of the parties, these differences weren’t addressed per se.

For instance, the issue of the Uniform Civil Code, which various opposition parties oppose while others support, wasn’t brought up at all. Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) had only recently warned Rahul Gandhi against “insulting” Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar, but this previous war of words wasn’t brought up. Other differences like those between the TMC and the Left parties were also ignored.

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Instead, the focus was on the many similarities the parties share— mostly to do with their vehement opposition to the BJP and its politics. Sources said that Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee were both at the forefront of emphasising the “need to defeat BJP at all costs”. The focus of today’s meet was on how a potential Opposition alliance for 2024 should be positioned, and the consensus was that it needs to be framed as a “BJP vs the country” debate, and not a “Modi vs the other parties”, the sources added.

Mostly, however, no formula for the 2024 elections was decided upon or even floated in this meeting, as per sources. The next Opposition meet, slated to take place in early July in Shimla, is where these details are likely to be ironed out.

The meeting also saw regional players like NC’s Omar Abdullah and PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti stressing on the need for political parties to speak more frequently and aggressively for Jammu and Kashmir, and the continued president’s rule in the region. Abdullah reiterated the same in the press conference post the meet. “Mehbooba Mufti and I belong to that part of the country where democracy is murdered...Yesterday in America there were discussions about democracy in the White House...why this democracy doesn't reach Jammu and Kashmir?," Abdullah asked.

The AAP VS Congress Tiff

A while into the meeting, the AAP decided to address the elephant in the room: whether the Congress will support it in its bid to counter the Centre’s ordinance for Delhi or not. When Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal brought this issue up, sources said, the Congress leadership present there dismissed it as “not being relevant to the meet” and something that needs to be “discussed one-on-one.”

Moreover, Kharge asserted that this particular issue can be discussed when the Parliament convenes for the monsoon session. Sources said that AAP leaders did not take to this kindly, and reiterated that this is a non-negotiable for them.

Later, the AAP decided to give the joint press conference of all the parties a miss. Nitish Kumar, on being asked to explain the AAP’s absence told the media that the party’s leaders had to catch a flight back to Delhi.

But even as the press conference was on, AAP decided to put out a statement, calling out the Congress on this matter. "Congress' hesitation and refusal to act as a team player, especially on an issue as important as this one, will make it very difficult for the AAP to be a part of any alliance that includes Congress." "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," the statement added.

“A total of 15 parties are attending the like-minded party meeting in Patna, out of which 12 have representation in the Rajya Sabha. Except for the Indian National Congress, all other 11 parties, which have representation in the Rajya Sabha, have clearly expressed their stand against the Black Ordinance and announced that they would oppose it in the Rajya Sabha,” AAP further said.

Parties That Were Missing At the Meet

While a total of 15 parties were present at the meet, there were a few others that were conspicuous by their absence.

For one, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was not invited to the meet. “BSP says it will not become part of alliance, then why should we waste our invitation,” KC Tyagi of the JD(U) told PTI ahead of the meeting.

BSP’s Mayawati hit out at the opposition parties. "Eighty Lok Sabha seats in UP are said to be the key to electoral success, but it does not seem from the attitude of the opposition parties that they are serious and truly concerned about their objective here. Without the right priorities, will the preparations for the Lok Sabha elections here really bring about the necessary change?" Mayawati tweeted.

Interestingly, all three major parties from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana skipped the meeting-- Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) as well as Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS, previously TRS). The parties want to maintain an ‘equidistant’’ approach to both BJP and Congress and not be seen as part of a camp.

Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was also missing from the meet.

While the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) was invited to the meet, Jayant Chaudhary said he couldn’t make it due to a previous family commitment. But he added that the meet was “an important milestone in opposition unity.”

Lalu Prasad Yadav's Teasing Of Rahul Gandhi Over Marriage

As opposition leaders, one by one, addressed the media in the joint press conference, RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav’s statements came as a comic relief to many.

"Hum log ka salah maane nahi, byah nahi kiye. Abhi bhi samay beeta nahi hai. Shaadi kariye aur hum baraati chalein (You didn't listen to our advice. You didn't get married. It's still not to late. Get married so that we can come as your baraatis.)"

Lalu Prasad quipped as Gandhi, Kumar and rest of the leaders present laughed.

"Aapki mummy boli ki aap baat nahi maan rahe. Shaadi karwaiye. (Your mother told me you don't listen. You should get married),” he added. Yadav has been down with ill-health for the last couple of years and has mostly avoided public meetings and conferences like these. He told the media that he is in a much better condition now and proceeded to praise Gandhi and his efforts during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Gandhi at the press conference spoke about the opposition coming together to defeat BJP “with love and unity.”

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