'United We Stand' is Opposition's slogan as leaders converge for 2-day brainstorming session

Top leaders of 26 opposition parties will meet in Bengaluru

Former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, party leader Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav and others ahead of the opposition parties meet, in Bengaluru | PTI Former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, party leader Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav and others ahead of the opposition parties meet, in Bengaluru | PTI

Top leaders of 26 opposition parties were arriving in Bengaluru on Monday for a two-day brainstorming session with a call for unity and are expected to chalk out their joint programme aimed at defeating the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

"United We Stand" is the slogan on posters that dotted the streets of Bengaluru with pictures of opposition leaders, including Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, NCP's Sharad Pawar, AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal, DMK chief M K Stalin and leaders of Left and some regional outfits.

Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge arrived in the Karnataka capital on a special plane and were received at the airport by state chief minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy D K Shivakumar.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, along with RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav also reached later in the afternoon.

A warm welcome was also accorded here to other leaders like former chief ministers Akhilesh Yadav (SP), Farooq Abdullah (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), besides Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), D Raja (CPI) and Jayant Chaudhary (RLD).

The Congress asserted that Opposition unity would be "a game changer" for the Indian political scenario and took a swipe at the BJP, saying those who used to talk of defeating the opposition parties alone are now making attempts to breathe new life into the NDA which had become a "ghost".

The Opposition meeting coincides with the NDA meeting convened on July 18 in Delhi, where some new allies are likely to join the ruling BJP-led coalition.

Talks of unity notwithstanding, differences among opposition parties, especially those who have been traditional rivals remain, and reconciling political interests will be a challenging task.

Arriving for the Opposition meet, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury ruled out any alliance with the TMC in West Bengal and said that secular parties along with the Left and the Congress will take on the BJP as well as the TMC in the state.

Yechury, however, added that the endeavour is to reduce the split in opposition votes and they will chalk out a plan to fight together.

The BJP, which has been targeting these parties over their differences, on Monday called it a "meeting of opportunists and power-hungry" leaders and said such an alliance will not do any good for the country at present or in the future.

But Congress general secretary organisation KC Venugopal said the 26 opposition parties are here to move forward unitedly and give a solution for people's problems and to address the concerns over this "dictatorial government's actions".

Sources said the opposition leaders will firm up a strategy to defeat the BJP in the next general elections during the two-day session, which will start with a dinner meeting that will be attended by Sonia Gandhi and other top leaders.

Mamata Banerjee is not likely to attend the dinner due to an injury.

The opposition leaders will begin work on a common minimum programme and announce a joint agitational plan, besides holding discussions on issuing a joint declaration and moving forward on their proposal of putting up common opposition candidates in a majority of the Lok Sabha seats.

The agenda for the talks would be finalised during discussions before a dinner meeting on Monday evening. Congress president Kharge said all opposition alliance partners will unitedly fight against the BJP and thwart attempts to divide them.

He also took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he had claimed that he alone is enough to take on the Opposition, then why was he feeling the need to get 30 parties together.

Referring to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) meeting on Tuesday, Kharge claimed that seeing the Opposition getting together, the BJP was "rattled".

"The PM had said 'Main akela kaafi hoon saare Opposition ke liye' while speaking in Rajya Sabha, then why is he bringing together 30 parties. Who are these 30 parties, what are their names, are they all registered with the Election Commission."

Addressing a press conference ahead of the meeting, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said attempts are being made to breathe new life into the NDA.

"So NDA, which had become a ghost, attempts are now being made to breathe a new life into it," Ramesh said.

This is a result of the meeting in Patna, he added.

Venugopal said the opposition parties are all united by a common purpose to protect democracy, constitutional rights and the independence of institutions in this country.

The Parliament session is starting on July 20 and the opposition parties will chalk out the strategy for that also, he said.

"We are very sure that this (meeting) is going to be a game changer for the Indian political scenario," Venugopal said.

Asked who would be the leader of the alliance, Venugopal said, "We have enough leaders, who have proved their mettle in various capacities. You don't worry about the leader, worry about the situation in the country."

Referring to his party's differences with the TMC, CPI(M) leader Yechury 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 the Manmohan Singh government was formed and it ran for 10 years.

"Mamata and CPI(M) will not happen. 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.

Yechury referred to the 2004 model which brought the Left-Congress coalition to power at the Centre.

Fifteen parties including the Congress, TMC, AAP, CPI, CPI-M, RJD, JMM, NCP, Shiv Sena (UBT), SP and JDU, attended the last meeting for opposition unity hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna on June 23.

"This time we are expecting leaders of 26 parties," Venugopal said.

The total strength of the opposition parties attending this meet is around 150 in the Lok Sabha.

Among the parties which will be added this time are MDMK, KDMK, VCK, RSP, CPI-ML, Forward Bloc, IUML, Kerala Congress (Joseph) and Kerala Congress (Mani), besides the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi) of Krishna Patel and Tamil Nadu's Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) led by M H Jawahirullah.

The Opposition meeting also comes in the backdrop of the split in the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the violence-marred West Bengal panchayat polls. 


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