President election: The leaders of at least 17 political parties joined a crucial meeting of opposition parties convened by Mamata Banerjee to build consensus on fielding a joint candidate against the NDA in the presidential election here on Wednesday. Leaders of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, NCP, DMK, RJD and the Left parties attended the meeting called by the Trinamool Congress supremo, while the AAP, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Odisha's ruling BJD skipped it.
The West Bengal chief minister is in the national capital for the meeting aimed to explore the possibility of formulating a common strategy with other opposition parties for the presidential polls.
Banerjee's meeting under sharp criticism by Left
Miffed at the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee's "unilateral" decision to call a meeting for discussion on a joint presidential nominee, the CPI(M) and the CPI on Tuesday said they will send their MPs to the opposition meet to be held here on June 15.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and CPI general secretary D Raja said the top leadership will not attend the meeting called by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief.
The CPI(M) will be represented in the meeting by the leader of the party in Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem.
Yechury has also written a letter to Banerjee saying such meetings of opposition parties have always followed a procedure of prior mutual consultations to enable the maximum participation of those wishing to join.
"However, in this instance, we received a unilateral communication informing the date, time, venue and agenda. Your letter mentions 'a fruitful confluence of opposition voices is the need of the hour'. This could have been better achieved if there had been mutual consultation and a proper time to enable party leaders to reschedule their prior commitments to attend such a meeting.
"Unfortunately, there were only three days between the receipt of your letter and the date of the meeting," said Yechury.
An amiable Pawar, who has good personal equations with Narendra Modi despite his public criticism of the prime minister on political issues, declined the offer to become the joint opposition candidate. He had rejected such an offer in 2017, too.
"I have been informed that Pawar will not be the opposition face for the presidential poll. Other names are under consideration," said Yechury after meeting the NCP boss.
Apart from Yechury, Pawar met CPI general secretary D Raja, and NCP leaders Praful Patel and P C Chacko during the day and conveyed to them his decision to not contest the election.
Meanwhile, there was no clarity on whether the Aam Aadmi Party will be attending the meeting.
Akali Dal announced it was not attending the meet.
According to CMO sources, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is not likely to send a representative to Mamata's meeting amid moves to forge consensus for an opposition-backed candidate. The decision comes as the party has decided to not attend the meeting called by Mamta Banerjee, sources said.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, in a byte to news agency ANI, today said he was not invited to the meeting.
"I have not been invited. Even if I was, I wouldn't go and the reason is Congress," Owaisi said today.
Congress will send representatives to meeting
The Congress, despite its reservations over Banerjee unilaterally convening the meeting, is likely to send its representatives. Congress sources said Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala may attend the meeting.
The Congress, despite its diminution following a string of electoral losses, retains its preeminence among opposition parties because of its pan-India presence. It was also the first off the blocks to start exploring the possibility of putting up a joint opposition candidate for the presidential election.
Soon after the Election Commission announced the schedule for the election, Congress president Sonia Gandhi nominated Kharge as the interlocutor to engage other opposition parties in discussions.
Banerjee, whose relations with the Congress have soured since her return to power for a third straight term in West Bengal, gave short shrift to the main opposition party and called a meeting to discuss the opposition strategy for the presidential election.
Several other opposition parties are likely to attend the meeting called by Banerjee and take forward the discussion on fielding a common candidate.
The election of the President of India will be held on July 18.
(With inputs from India TV reporters)