Mumbai: Leaders of the Opposition bloc INDIA decided to get into the poll mode and speed up plans to take on the BJP-led NDA in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, with some stressing on the urgency to finalise seat sharing and come out with a joint agenda in a few weeks’ time. Top opposition leaders, who met in Mumbai for a few hours in an informal setting on the first day of the third round of talks of their alliance on Thursday, emphasised that they must get their act together at the earliest and vowed to finalise a coordination committee along with four sub-groups to chalk out their election plans.
Sources said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge told the leaders to give one name from their respective parties for being part of the coordination committee. The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) would also unveil its logo on Friday, even though there were no discussions on it on Thursday.
The sources added that the opposition grouping should have a team of spokespersons who would speak on behalf of the alliance, as leaders of various parties have their own respective spokespersons. They said the leaders discussed the agenda of Friday’s meeting which will begin at 11 AM, after which they would issue a joint statement and address a press conference jointly.
It was decided that a coordination committee will be formed after discussions, along with at least four sub-groups which include one to plan the joint programme of the alliance, another on preparing the action plan and handling social media, and one on research and data analysis to take on the ruling National Democratic Alliance.
Besides, sub-committees would also be set up for chalking out the joint campaign and rallies. A source said, there could also be a discussion on Friday on having a convenor for the alliance.
While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is learnt to have told the meeting that the bloc should come out with its manifesto by October 2, her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal called for finalising seat sharing among parties for the Lok Sabha polls by the end of next month.
Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Ram Gopal Yadav is also learnt to have called for finalising seat sharing between parties in states early, saying there is no time left for the opposition alliance. In view of the convening of the special session of Parliament from September 18, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the opposition should be ready for all contingency plans to take on the NDA’s surprise element strategy and gimmicks.
Most leaders agreed for early finalisation of poll plans for 2024 considering that there could be early elections, while stressing that there was no time left with them and mere meetings would not help.
Congress president Kharge, former party chiefs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena (UBT) president Uddhav Thackeray, West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee, AAP convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, among others, participated in the informal talks.
National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D Raja, CPI(ML) Dipankar Bhattacharya, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, and RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary, were also present at the meeting.
Thackeray hosted a dinner for the INDIA leaders after the meeting. The run-up to the meeting saw the Adani issue take centre stage with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi holding a press conference on the premises of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in suburban Santacruz where the INDIA bloc leaders had gathered.
Before the start of the meeting in the evening, Rahul Gandhi was seen chatting with Shiv Sena (UBT) leaders Aaditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut, and Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Supriya Sule and Jayant Patil. Uddhav Thackeray and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar were also seen sharing light moments ahead of the meeting.
Earlier in the day, several leaders of the alliance said they have come together to save the Constitution and democracy in the country. Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad said the need of the hour is to strengthen the unity and sovereignty of the country and to protect the Constitution and democracy.
“The Modi government has failed to address the issues of poverty, unemployment and welfare of farmers. At the INDIA alliance meeting, we will work on evolving a common programme. We have to contest elections one-on-one (put up common candidates against the BJP),” the RJD leader said.
Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav said the ‘Maha Gathbandhan’ (grand alliance) came to power in Bihar last August and Lalu Prasad and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar decided to work on getting all like-minded parties on board for a larger opposition alliance.
“A year later, we are meeting in Mumbai for the third time as an INDIA alliance,” he said. People wanted a proper alternative and the INDIA alliance is offering it, Tejashwi Yadav said, adding that people will give a befitting reply to “those who divide society.”
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said the youth were the strength of the country. “Leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh worked to give direction to the youth and set up institutions like JNU, IIMs, ISRO,” she said.
RJD leader Jha said the alliance is working to unite the country. It is not just a coalition of parties but that of ideas, he said. Yechury claimed that people’s response to INDIA has “unnerved” the prime minister and the BJP.