THE CONCLAVE OF opposition parties that took place in Chennai, on the occasion of the 94th birthday of the senior DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, was the second in a month. The first meeting in Delhi was attended by Trinamool Congress chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. My party leader sent me to Chennai for the second.
The irony is my previous visit to Chennai had been on a sad day, to attend the funeral of J. Jayalalithaa. This was a more relaxed visit and the mood was upbeat. Such is political life—or perhaps—life itself.
And, it was not all politics. The birthday celebrations of the grand old patriarch of Tamil Nadu evoked genuine happiness and I experienced southern hospitality at its finest, as did so many of my colleagues from other parties. I was received with a cardamom garland, a first for me. Like for the Delhi meeting, a gamut of parties, from Trinamool Congress to the National Conference, from the Congress to the Left, were present in Chennai. Nitish Kumar, JD(U) president and chief minister of Bihar, cleared the air when he said he had come with the good wishes of Lalu Prasad of the RJD, who couldn’t make it because of high fever.
The informal buzz in the air throughout the birthday celebration was the prospect of a joint candidate for the presidential election. Ideally, we would like a choice by consensus, but that depends on the government. It will have to announce its candidate first, and clear the credentials. Only then can the combined opposition take its call. There is another dimension. The Rajya Sabha will have a new chairperson in the form of a new vice-president. In the true spirit of democracy, the presiding officer is expected to be neutral. Will that happen in reality if a BJP loyalist assumes the high office? The opposition has a majority in the upper house, but the chair can make a difference.
Parliament is only likely to meet in the second week of July. In the interim, these conclaves have become events for parliamentary members of various opposition parties to meet and coordinate. The only party missing is the Aam Aadmi Party, but I know it is with us in spirit.
The scene now shifts to the monsoon session of Parliament in the midst of which will be the presidential and vice-presidential elections. This will be a busy time, as the opposition will seek to corner the government on issues such as the sinking national economy and the decline in social and inter-community relations, a legacy of three years of the BJP government.
On August 27, shortly after the monsoon session is likely to end, the third opposition conclave of the season will take place in Patna. It will be hosted by Lalu, who is taking the lead role, and Nitish, and will be attended by, among others, both the leading regional parties from Uttar Pradesh—Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. The chairperson of the Trinamool Congress confirmed her participation many weeks ago.
While the immediate issue is the presidential and vice-presidential contest, as the August 27 date demonstrates, the opposition’s plans go beyond just these upcoming elections. The idea is to work together, especially as regional parties (even though Trinamool has now earned the status of a national party from the Election Commission), and come to some sort of common ground in 2019 so that we can present the people of India with an alternative to this prejudiced and under-performing government.
A constructive agenda for all political parties who are opposed to the BJP is important, so that there can be a clear-cut option for voters across the nation.
It is appropriate that the conclaves of the opposition began in Delhi, located in the north of the country, before moving south to Chennai and east to Patna. This reflects the diversity of India that the opposition represents. A diversity the BJP can never come to symbolise.
Derek O’Brien is Rajya Sabha MP, Trinamool Congress.