NEW DELHI, Jan 13: The Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was named the chairperson of the ‘Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance’ (INDIA) bloc at a virtual meeting of the chiefs of the opposition alliance partners on Saturday with the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party staying away.
The name of the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar as the convenor of the bloc was almost finalised but the Janata Dal (United) chief preferred to wait before taking over the post till his name was cleared by the Trinamool chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. At one stage, Mr Kumar also suggested that a team of different party chiefs could be formed to take over the responsibility of the convenor of the bloc instead of naming an individual.
The Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar who attended the meeting from Mumbai said there was no dispute over the name of the convenor of the bloc but Mr Kumar said he would take over only if there was consensus among all the members. While all others consented in favour of Mr Kumar for the post of INDIA convenor, Mr Kharge has taken up the responsibility of taking the issue up with Ms Banerjee and Mr Yadav for clearing Mr Kumar’s name.
Mr Kharge was chosen as the chairperson after intense deliberations. Sources said Mr Kumar was another contender for the top post, but in today’s meeting he said someone from Congress should assume charge.
Sources said when the possibility of making Mr Kumar the convenor of the alliance was raised, the newly elected chief of the Janata Dal (United) said he did not have any desire for the post and did not show much interest. Nobody objected to his name, however, and Mr Kharge said he would discuss the issue with Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav. According to the sources, the convenor is a separate post in the alliance, just below that of the chairperson.
Today’s meeting was attended by representatives from all parties, except for Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party. Several leaders attending the meet stressed on the importance to ensure unity at the national level and not allow state-level rifts to disturb the alliance.
However, choosing a chairperson is only one facet of the many challenges faced by the INDIA bloc. They still have to tackle the issue of seat-sharing between all the parties.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party is not expected to be in a forgiving mood given the state Congress’s refusal to share any seats in the assembly elections. State party chief Kamal Nath had refused to honour the central leadership’s commitment for six seats in the state.
The ripples were very public. Akhilesh Yadav’s swipes at the Congress were followed by the party’s crushing defeat in the three heartland states and the sacking of Kamal Nath from the top post. Congress’s discussion with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also proving contentious. While the party wants 4 seats in Delhi and seven seats in Punjab, AAP is not ready to comply. In both Delhi and Punjab, the ruling party wants the bigger share of seats. AAP also wants to contest in Goa, Haryana and Gujarat, sources said.
Mr Pawar asserted that there was no dispute among the INDIA bloc members over appointing its convenor, but said there was no need to project any face for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls as the leader can be chosen once the results are declared. He said that during a virtual meeting of INDIA bloc leaders held on Saturday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s name was suggested for the post of convenor, but the latter was of the view that a team of party chiefs should be formed and that there is no need to appoint a convenor.
During the virtual meeting, the INDIA bloc leaders discussed various aspects of the alliance and the preparations for the Lok Sabha elections due in April-May.
Talking to reporters at Junnar in Pune district after attending the meeting, Mr Pawar said, “There is no need to project one face to seek votes. We will select the leader after the elections and we are confident of providing an alternative. In 1977, Morarji Desai was not projected as the prime ministerial face by the opposition,” the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president said, adding that it was a positive sign that several parties were coming together.
Mr Pawar said he could not attend the entire virtual meeting as he had some other pre-scheduled engagements. “Candidates (for the Lok Sabha elections) were not discussed…We will discuss seat-sharing. For the Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, seat-sharing was discussed and we will announce once it is finalised,” he said.
The INDIA bloc meeting discussed programmes, policies to be taken up. It was decided that a committee would be formed that will decide on holding joint rallies of the allies all over the country, he said.
On the Ram temple issue, Mr Pawar said, “Nobody opposes the Ram temple in Ayodhya, but the political motive in holding the consecration ceremony in the temple whose construction is not yet complete is being questioned.”
The issue of chairperson and convener was first broached by CPI(M) General secretary Sitaram Yechury. JMM leader and Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren suggested Rahul Gandhi’s name but Mr Gandhi declined citing his upcoming Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra starting from Sunday. He said that Mr Kharge was the Congress’ president and was the more experienced leader.
Congress noted that if their party leader is the chairperson, a non-Congress leader should be the convenor. Opposition sources said Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal(U) chief Nitish Kumar’s name was discussed as the convener of the group. “There was unanimity on his name as well. However, it was suggested that since Trinamool chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav were not present, they would also be informed and consulted,” sources said.
While Mr Kumar was silent, his party colleague Rajeev Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh said the Bihar Chief Minister had never asked anything for himself. Mr Kumar has neither accepted nor declined the offer. Mr Kharge, later posted on X that “Everyone is happy that the seat sharing talks are progressing in a positive way.”
As many as 28 opposition parties have come together under the banner of INDIA to take on the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections. But days after the TMC refused to join seat-sharing talks with the Congress’s national alliance committee, the party had said Friday it would not attend today’s meeting. Earlier this week, the TMC signalled it was willing to concede two or three seats to the Congress in Bengal — an offer which the state Congress rejected.
For weeks the JD(U) had been of the view that Kharge should be appointed as the chairperson of the alliance and Kumar the convener — a North-South combination that it felt would send a positive signal to the people in the absence of a prime ministerial face for the bloc in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress had not been keen on heading the alliance as it knew that some of the regional parties were not comfortable with the idea. It was, however, agreeable to Kumar being appointed the convener if there could be an agreement among the parties in the alliance.