Eye on LS Polls2024: Sonia Gandhi’s presence is an “outcome” of the first meeting: Congress

NEW DELHI/ BANGALURU: Leaders of 26 parties from across India will huddle at a second conclave of the Opposition in Bengaluru on July 18 to forge an electoral alliance for a battle against the NDA led by the ruling BJP in the Lok Sabha elections to be held in 2024. Leaders of 15 parties attended the last meeting of the Opposition parties held at Patna in Bihar on June 23. More than 50 leaders from different parties attended the meeting on Monday.
As many as 26 parties are likely to attend a two-day conclave of opposition parties beginning from July 17 at Bengaluru, in Karnataka, to ostensibly zero in on a strategy to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2024 general elections. This is a significant rise from the 16 that had gathered at Patna on June 23.”In Patna, Nitish Kumar was the focus and the question was, who is bringing everyone together? Here it is the Congress that is the host and it is a subtle reiteration of the party’s position,” said a senior leader who requested anonymity.
As opposition parties get down to their second unity show in Bengaluru, a big difference from Round One in Patna is the presence of Sonia Gandhi at a meeting held in a state where the Congress is firmly in control. Sonia Gandhi’s presence is an “outcome” of the first meeting, say Congress leaders, but they are hoping that her experience as a coalition builder before the 2004 polls and her personal relationships across the political spectrum will add heft to the Congress’s voice at the negotiating table.
Sonia Gandhi’s presence is of special significance in Bengaluru. The Congress’s chairman of media and publicity, Pawan Khera, emphasizes, “She is a senior leader who was present in all parliamentary meetings and her presence will give strength to the opposition”. Given that leaders of most alliance partners had once rallied around Sonia Gandhi, the chemistry may help move things forward. The optics also sent a clear message – the Congress is the glue, the central pole around which the opposition must unite.
Upcoming meeting of Opposition parties looking to draw up plans for a joint fight against the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Congress Party sources said that more meetings are likely to be held before arriving at a consensus on seat sharing, probable common programme and strategy to highlight the failure of BJP government at the Centre.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah asserted that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will win the Lok Sabha election net year, and the BJP’s downfall has started from Karnataka, where the party lost the Assembly elections in May.Mr. Siddaramaiah claimed the BJP will lose the Parliamentary elections as the party will not get a clear mandate.
“After Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, price rise started, and the economy (was) destroyed. It has become difficult for the farmers, Dalits and economically weaker sections to survive. People have also lost their peace due to communalism. People are living in fear. This is the BJP’s gift,” he told reporters here. Reacting to the BJP leaders’ charge that opposition leaders are uniting fearing Modi, Siddaramaiah said: “Didn’t we face Modi? Aren’t we strong in Karnataka? Congress won at all the places wherever Modi went for campaigning (during Assembly election). The BJP’s downfall has started from Karnataka.” Meanwhile, a new, refurbished National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP is in the works, and its first outing is planned on July 18 with a meeting of the alliance partners at a five-star hotel in New Delhi.
By taking a stand on the Centre’s ordinance on the control of administrative services in Delhi, the Congress is seemingly projecting a more conciliatory image. The move signals its willingness to make concessions and ensure that, despite the historic animosity, there is an effort to engage with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This may be an indication, beyond AAP, that the Congress is willing to give what it takes to build a coalition. This will ensure that the Congress-AAP friction does not end up ruining the effort and the optics is right.
However, in terms of substance, though the location of the meeting is in southern India, the substantive dialogue will revolve around electoral strategy in the BJP’s bastion, the northern states. This is because alliances in the southern states, barring Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, seem set. The DMK is in charge in Tamil Nadu, the Congress in Karnataka, and a Left versus Congress battle in Kerala – par for the course.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Andhra Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy are unlikely allies and Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) seems to be heading to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This makes coalitions in South India relatively straightforward coalition.It is in the northern states that creating this rainbow coalition and getting it right is essential. A senior leader pointed out that Sonia Gandhi’s presence and experience could help, especially with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. The two parties have had uncomfortable equations in the past, and firming up the tenets of the alliance in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will be the launch pad for opposition unity.

There is a sense that leaders like Akhilesh Yadav or Tejashwi Yadav, who are of similar vintage as Rahul Gandhi, would respond much better to Sonia Gandhi. Even with older allies like Mamata Banerjee and Lalu Yadav, the Sonia factor is believed to have better play. It is something that is beyond Mallikarjun Kharge’s experience and Rahul Gandhi’s enthusiasm. The crisis in Maharashtra is a focal point, but on the whole, unlike Patna, there is an expectation of some concrete forward movement and greater cohesion after this meeting. While it is still nascent, two points seem to be emerging. First, the reiteration of Congress as the central force bringing the “Mahagathbandhan” together, and second, Sonia Gandhi may still hold sway and be part of the opposition’s battle plan.
Ahead of Opposition’s unity meet, Sitaram Yechury rules out Left-TMC alliance in Bengal.With several opposition parties holding a meeting aimed at forging unity for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury on Monday ruled out any alliance with the TMC in West Bengal and said there will be secular parties along with the Left and the Congress in West Bengal which will fight against the BJP and TMC,” the CPI(M) general secretary said, adding that at the Centre what form this will take will be decided later.
Speaking to reporters at the venue of the two-day meeting to be attended by him, Yachuri said “The situation is different in every state. The effort is to ensure that in these situations the division of votes which gives BJP the advantage should be minimal. This is not a new thing. Like in 2004, the Left had 61 seats, out of which we won 57 defeating the Congress candidates…then Manmohan Singh government was formed and it ran for 10 years.

While, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav who arrived in Bengaluru on Monday to attend the two-day joint Opposition meeting, hoped that the people of the country would give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a massive defeat in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Said “…2/3rd of the population is going to defeat BJP. I hope that the people of the country will give BJP a massive defeat…I am receiving inputs from all corners of the country that the BJP will be wiped out…,” SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said ahead of the Opposition meeting.

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