NEW DELHI, June 5: The first meeting towards creating an united opposition against the ruling BJP in the 2024 Parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in Patna on June 12 has been postponed as some of the parties have found the date inconvenient as the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, the prime mover in the unity move, is insistent that all the parties must be represented only by the “heads” at the meeting.
Nitish Kumar, who has volunteered to bring the non-BJP parties on one platform, said on Monday that he was insistent upon “heads” of respective parties attending the opposition meet. Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a function in Patna, the JD(U) chief said a new date for the much talked about meeting would be announced after consultation with all parties.
“We had to put off the June 12 meeting after the Congress and another party conveyed to me that they found the date inconvenient. I have therefore decided to postpone the meet and asked the Congress to suggest a new date after consultation with other parties. “But I have made one thing very clear. All parties which agree to attend the meeting, must be represented by their respective heads,” Kumar said.
If any party insisted that it be represented by someone else, that would not be acceptable, he said. “For example, there was an impression that the Congress may send someone else other than its president. This was something we could not accept,” added Kumar. Last week, state Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh had said his party was planning to send “one chief minister and another senior leader” for the meeting.
The postponement was a direct fallout of the fact that both Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed their inability to attend the June 12 meeting. Congress sources said the date had not been fixed in consultation with the party.
The change of the meeting date is one indication of the fault lines in the Opposition’s unity framework, with one leader saying that there was no consultation with his party before deciding June 12 as the first date. Though a final decision on the date was still to be taken, tentatively the meeting has been deferred till June 23.
On May 22, after Nitish, along with JD(U) national president Lalan Singh, met Kharge and Rahul in Delhi and apprised them of his talks with Opposition leaders, the Congress had said the venue and date of the joint Opposition meeting would be announced in a day or two. Six days later, the JD(U) apparently unilaterally issued a statement in Patna that the meeting would be held on June 12.
The Congress, which wanted the meeting to take place after June 20 – Rahul is returning from a tour of the United States on June 18 – chose to remain silent officially. But other parties too were not happy with the date. DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin as well as the CPI(M) are learnt to have conveyed to the JD(U) that June 12 was inconvenient for them. The DMK reportedly urged Nitish to reschedule.
The DMK indicated that it would send its senior leader and Lok Sabha MP Kanimozhi as its representative for the meeting. The Congress then put out that since both Kharge and Rahul were unavailable, it could send one of the party’s CMs to the June 12 meeting.
This had evoked taunts from the BJP, now in opposition in Bihar, which claimed neither Rahul Gandhi nor Mallikarjun Kharge was assigning much importance to the initiative of Nitish Kumar, despite being his ally in the state.
The idea of a meeting of opposition parties in Patna was first mooted by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a press conference she addressed jointly with Kumar in April. Accompanied by his deputy Tejashwi Yadav, Nitish Kumar had visited Kolkata to meet the TMC chief who exhorted him to carry forward the legacy of Jayaprakash Narayan, referring to the socialist leader’s revolt against the Indira Gandhi government before and during the Emergency.
The signal from the JD(U) supremo insisting only the party heads attend the meeting was clearly that the absence of heads of parties would rob the conclave of its seriousness, and that it should not be seen as a preparatory meeting as some of the Congress leaders – not too keen about entirely ceding the lead space to the JD(U) – had been claiming.
For now, the Congress has let Nitish Kumar do the groundwork of bringing Opposition parties under one umbrella, as there are many parties which might be uncomfortable with the Congress taking the lead.
A leader pointed out that there were two sets of parties in the Opposition camp – those which are allies of the Congress or have fought elections with it, like the DMK, NCP, RJD, JMM and the CPI(M), and those which, far from an electoral alliance with the Congress, are its main rivals in states like the Aam Aadmi Party and Trinamool Congress. “Those who are not allies of the Congress need not be on the same page as the Congress on every issue…,” the leader said.