Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday held a virtual meeting with top opposition leaders including some chief ministers, amid efforts to evolve a common strategy against the NDA government. She said that the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is the "ultimate goal", calling upon the Opposition parties to plan systematically.
Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also attended the meeting. A number of representatives participated in the meet, including from the TMC, NCP, DMK, Shiv Sena, JMM, CPI, CPM, NC, RJD, AIUDF, V.C.K, Loktantrik Janta Dal, JDS, RLD, RSP, Kerala Congress Mani, PDP, IUML. Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), however, skipped the meet.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray, NCP chief Sharad Pawar were among the top Opposition leaders at the meet. Besides, National Conference's Farooq Abdullah, DMK's MK Stalin, JMM's Hemant Soren, LJD's Sharad Yadav, and CPM's Sitaram Yechury were also present as the faces of the Opposition at the meet.
2024 LOK SABHA POLLS 'ULTIMATE GOAL', SAYS SONIA GANDHI
"You may recall we had written jointly to the Prime Minister on May 12, 2021 on the vaccination strategy to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, on the repeal of the three anti-farmer laws and on the free distribution of food-grains to the needy. Some crucial changes were introduced in the procurement system of vaccines following our intervention. Needless to say, as always, somebody else has taken the credit. This does not matter really, as long as the people of the country have benefitted," Sonia said in her opening remarks at the Opposition meeting.
She blamed the government's "obstinate" and "arrogant unwillingness" to discuss and debate urgent issues of public importance for the "complete washout" of the Monsoon Session of Parliament. "These include the Pegasus snooping scandal that affects each and every citizen, the repeal of the three anti-farmer laws- the agitation of farmers that has been going on for the past nine months, the price rise of essential commodities, and the continuing assault on federalism and the institutions of our democracy," the Congress president said.
"In spite of this, the session was marked by the determined unity that all Opposition parties demonstrated for over twenty days in both the houses. We functioned in a coordinated manner with daily discussions among our floor leaders. It was entirely due to the Opposition parties that the Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed to restore the long-standing rights of states to identify and notify OBCs. The Government had erred three years back and as you well know this Bill was required to rectify that mistake and a subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court. I am confident that this unity will be sustained in future sessions of Parliament as well. But the larger political battle has to be fought outside it," she added.
Stating that the "ultimate goal" is the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Sonia called upon all Opposition parties to begin planning systemically with the single-minded objective of giving to our country a government that believes in the values of the Freedom Movement and in the principles and provisions of our Constitution.
"This is a challenge, but together we can and must rise to it because there is simply no alternative to working cohesively together. We all have our compulsions, but clearly, a time has come when the interests of our nation demand that we rise above them. The 75th anniversary of India’s Independence is indeed the most appropriate occasion for us to reaffirm our individual and collective resolve. Let me say for its part, the Indian National Congress will not be found wanting," she said.
Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee called upon all leaders to fight the government "together" and "collectively", sources said.
"We must forget our internal differences to take the government head-on," Mamata said. She also raised farmer issues and talked about the "dictatorship" of the government and the "institutional torture".
The meeting, taking place on a day also observed as the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, is a part of the Congress party's efforts to unite various Opposition parties on key issues confronting the country and defeat the BJP in the upcoming assembly elections.
According to sources, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said that the nation's situation internally and externally is "not at all rosy". He called upon the entire Opposition to take up issues including "parliament fiasco, silencing of democracy and institutional caging".
Soren was of the view that issues centric to common people and centric to states are not being addressed, sources said.
"As part of a collective framework, the Opposition including all the opposition-ruled states should immediately take up these issues especially those being faced by non-BJP run states. We have to struggle and resist all anti-people policies in a more cohesive manner. We have to sharpen our attacks on issues like income increase, inflation, unemployment, farmers issue, Covid management," sources quoted Soren as saying.
Several Opposition parties put up a show of unity during the just-concluded Monsoon session of Parliament when they took on the government to seek a discussion on the Pegasus snooping row, besides the farm laws and other issues.
Friday's meeting also comes in the backdrop of the government demanding strict action against those indulging in unruly behaviour in Rajya Sabha during the passage of the Insurance Amendment Bill. Besides, the meeting also comes close on the heels of a similar dinner meet hosted by Congress leader Kapil Sibal, where top opposition leaders favoured unity among like-minded parties to defeat the BJP.