Can the Opposition make a new alliance against Modi?

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses Indian Youth Congress supporters during a protest 'Sansad Gherao" over their various demands, in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI Photo/Rahul Singh)

With the all-important election for Uttar Pradesh set for early next year, most opposition parties try to create a common platform to challenge the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP. How feasible is such a united front?

Our Bureau  
New Delhi/Lucknow/Kolkata

In a big move this week, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi urged the Opposition parties to stay united to fight back the party in power at the Centre. He was addressing the breakfast meeting held by the Opposition parties. Speaking at the Constitution Club of India in the national capital, the Congress leader said, “Single most important thing in my view is that we unite this force. The more this voice (of the people) unites, the more powerful this voice will become, the more difficult it’ll become for BJP-RSS to suppress it.”

Opposition Party floor leaders from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha attended a breakfast meeting called by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. However, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) skipped the meeting. Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI, Indian Union Muslim League, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Kerala Congress (M), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, National Conference, Trinamool Congress and Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), however, participated in the breakfast meeting of Opposition Floor leaders.

After the meeting concluded, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders rode bicycles to the Parliament. The significance of riding cycles highlighted the issue of rising inflation across the country.

The move to create a united opposition front is being led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banrejee who said this week that the ‘Khela Hobe’ slogan will reverberate across India in the coming days. Speaking at the launch of Khela Hobe programme at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Monday, Banerjee said, “Khela Hobe has become very popular. The slogan was raised in Parliament too. In the coming days, it will reverberate across India. We will celebrate August 16 as Khela Hobe Diwas.” During the event, Banerjee dribbled a football.

Notably, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) poll slogan for the 2011 West Bengal elections “Khela Hobe” became immensely popular and unofficially became the theme of the poll battle between Trinamool Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party.

The West Bengal chief minister was in the national capital last week. She held meetings with the Opposition parties for forming a united front for the 2024 general elections. Banerjee also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Lyricist-poet Javed Akhtar and actor Shabana Azmi also met Banerjee in the national capital. West Bengal Chief Minister also had requested Javed Akhtar to write a song on ‘Khela Hobe’. Aiming for 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee had said, “Poore desh me khela hoga (Now, the game is on across the country). It is a continuous process…When general elections come (2024), it will be Modi vs country.”

But terming Opposition leaders as ‘zeros’, Union minister of state for Home Affairs and BJP leader Ajay Mishra Teni on Saturday said that together they can never match the stature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been taking the country forward on the path of development.

Terming West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee as ‘desperate’ who recently visited Delhi, to unite a ‘frustrated’ Opposition ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Teni said, “Mamata Banerjee is desperate. That’s why she is trying to unite the desperate and frustrated people. She did this effort in 2019 also. All the zeros together can never be equal to one. No one can match the development line that Modi ji has drawn.”

Teni further claimed that Mamata mainly came to Delhi to ‘save’ her 2026 West Bengal Assembly polls. He expressed confidence that in the next assembly polls, the BJP shall win the maximum number of seats in the state.

Things have been moving in the national capital too. Ahead of the commencement of the proceedings of both the Houses of Parliament on Friday, the Opposition leaders held a meeting to discuss over strategy for the remaining period of Parliament. Addressing the Youth Congress activists on Thursday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “not fulfilling his promise on employment.”

“PM Modi doesn’t speak a word on employment. 12 crore youth did not get jobs in the last 7 years, as was promised by him,” said Rahul said. “The Opposition in House is standing with placards, but the only thing visible on Lok Sabha TV is BJP MPs talking. The truth of the House is hidden,” he added further.

Talking about Pegasus, the Congress leader said, “I was told in the Parliament that the Pegasus issue is a minor one, why is the Congress and the Opposition stuck on it.”

Meanwhile in Lucknow, with less than a year remaining for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, Samajwadi Party president and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said on Thursday that seeing the anger and disappointment of people, the party may win up to 400 seats in the upcoming election.

During the press conference, Yadav said, “I used to say that we will win 350 seats in the 2022 Assembly elections. Seeing the anger of people against the incumbent BJP government for failing to fulfil the poll promises, we may win 400 seats.” When asked about BJP’s manifesto for the upcoming polls in the state, the SP chief said the BJP does not have any manifesto but only ‘Money-festo’. The BJP is renaming the projects which were started by the previous SP government, and they have not done anything in the past four years, he charged.

Slamming the BJP government, Yadav said Uttar Pradesh has become number one in black-marketing of Covid medicine, the number of custodial deaths and malnourished children, beating up youngsters for demanding employment, most unsafe place for women.

Taking a dig at Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Yadav said, “because the chief minister does not know to use laptops, the government has not distributed free laptops to students.”

In another development, AIMIM denied reports of going for an alliance with the Samajwadi Party in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. AIMIM Uttar Pradesh president Shaukat Ali said, “We have never said that AIMIM will go for alliance with Samajwadi Party if Akhilesh Yadav makes a Muslim leader as deputy chief minister if the party comes into power in Uttar Pradesh. We clearly deny the reports stating that because neither I nor AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi made these statements.” “We said that SP has got 20 per cent of Muslim votes in the previous elections and came into power but they did not make any Muslim as deputy chief minister,” he said.

At present, there are 110 Assembly constituencies where Muslim voters make up around 30-39 per cent. On 44 seats, this percentage rises to 40-49 per cent while on 11 seats, the Muslim voters are around 50-65 per cent.

Owaisi had earlier visited Lucknow and has been in talks with smaller political outfits. He is also part of ‘Bhaagidari Sankalp Morcha’.

Meanwhile in Patna, amid the power tussle in Lok Janshankti Party (LJP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav on Tuesday said he wants LJP MP Chirag Paswan and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav to come together to form an alliance. “Whatever happened in LJP, Chirag Paswan continues to be the leader of LJP. Yes, I want Chirag Paswan and Tejashwi Yadav to come together,” Lalu Prasad Yadav told mediapersons in Delhi. Asked about his Delhi visit, the RJD chief said, “I had come to enquire about Sharad Pawar’s health. He has been unwell. Parliament is deserted without him. Three of us – Sharad bhai, Mulayam Singh and I have fought for so many issues… My yesterday’s meeting with Mulayam Singh Yadav was a courtesy visit.”

Regarding ‘Pegasus Project’ media report, the RJD chief said, “Yes, a thorough probe should be done. Names of those involved should be published.”

Last month, RJD national general secretary Shyam Rajak met Lok Janshankti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan at the latter’s residence in New Delhi.

In an indication of trouble in the ruling alliance in Bihar, a day after Bihar Minister and BJP leader Samrat Chaudhary said that the party had accepted Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister despite the JD(U) getting lesser seats, on Monday he stated that BJP is working under Kumar’s leadership and there is no issue in that.

“We’re working under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. We recognise him as the CM of Bihar. It’s very clear. BJP is working under his leadership before & after elections. There is no issue in that,” Samrat Chaudhary told ANI, clarifying his earlier statement. On Sunday Chaudhary in Aurangabad had said that the party accepted Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister despite the JD(U) having 43 seats as opposed to BJP’s 75 seats in the state legislative assembly.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and leader of Janta Dal (United) leader on Monday demanded an investigation into the Pegasus spyware scandal. “A probe should be done, indeed. We have been hearing about telephone tapping for so many days, the matter should be discussed (in Parliament). People (Opposition) have been reiterating (for talks) for so many days, it should be done,” Kumar said when asked if the matter should be investigated. As the Opposition parties try to rally together against Modi, more twists and turns in the national politics can be expected.

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