NCP chief Sharad Pawar (File image: PTI)
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar will host opposition leaders except for Congress at his New Delhi residence on June 22, in what is being seen as the political veteran’s efforts to stitch together an alliance for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Invitations for the meeting have gone out to 15 opposition political parties on behalf of Pawar and former union finance minister Yashwant Sinha, news reports suggested. The meeting is scheduled for 4 pm.
NCP’s national spokesperson and Maharashtra Cabinet Minister tweeted that “prominent political leaders and eminent persons from different sections of society will attend the meeting to discuss the current scenario in our country.”
Besides Yashwant Sinha, former Janata Dal (United) leader Pawan Verma, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP’s Sanjay Singh, Communist Party of India’s D Raja, National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, Justice AP Singh, Javed Akhtar, KTS Tulsi, Karan Thapar, Ashutosh, advocate Majeed Memon, Member of Parliament Vandana Chavan, former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi, KC Singh, Sanjay Jha, Sudheendra Kulkarni, senior Supreme Court advocate Colin Gonsalves, economist Arun Kumar, Ghanshyam Tiwari, and Pritish Nandi will attend the meeting, Malik said.
"I don't believe this is an opposition gathering because it doesn't have Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, BSP and N Chandrababu Naidu. Maybe this is the first initiative to bring the opposition together," NDTV quoted Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut as saying.
Prashant Kishor factor?
The announcement came on the day political strategist Prashant Kishor met Pawar for the second time within two weeks. Their first meeting in Mumbai, which lasted for three hours, had led to speculation that a joint effort was being planned to take on the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the next general election. The June 21 meeting lasted for just half an hour, reports suggested.
However, Kishor told NDTV that he does not believe a third or fourth front can effectively confront the BJP.
Kishor had most recently helped build the assembly elections strategy for the DMK and the TMC in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, respectively. After these two parties won the polls in May, Kishor said he was “quitting this space”.
Sinha, who joined the Trinamool Congress earlier this year, told Outlook that the meeting has “nothing to do with Prashant Kishor” and that discussion on forming an electoral alliance of opposition parties, minus the Congress, “is not on the agenda”.
The former BJP veteran said he was “not aware of where rumours about discussions of forming a third front have come from… as far as I know, this meeting has nothing to do with Prashant Kishor or the possibility of forming a federal front.”
Invitations were also sent to Congress' Kapil Sibal, Vivek Tankha, and Manish Tiwari. However, two of them reportedly declined the invite and another was not in the national capital. Notably, all of these three leaders are part of the ‘G-23’. It was unclear if an invitation was also sent to the opposition Congress party’s senior leadership.
NCP currently runs a coalition government in Maharashtra with the Congress and the Shiv Sena.
Similarly, a number of non-Congress opposition parties also hold power in states like West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Odisha. Congress also backs the governing Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu and the CM Hemant Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand.
Asked about Congress being a possible “weak link” in the opposition, Sinha told NDTV that: “We don't intend to do anything. It is something the Congress needs to do. But I feel the Congress should show maturity and join the opposition front”.
When pointed out that the Congress is the only opposition party with a nationwide presence, Sinha said: “This is why the Congress needs to join the opposition parties”.
The Times of India, however, quoted an unnamed Congress member as suggesting Pawar may make informal efforts but a final picture he creates wouldn't exclude the Congress.
Meanwhile, news agency ANI reported
that Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi has also called a meeting of the party's general secretaries, state in-charges, and state unit chiefs on June 24, through video conferencing, to discuss the current political situation.