Political circles are abuzz with speculations about the agenda of the opposition parties’ meet in Delhi on Tuesday, with some calling it an attempt to drum up support against the BJP juggernaut ahead of the 2024 elections while others labelling it a meet of ‘like-minded’ individuals.
Hours ahead of the meeting at Sharad Pawar’s residence in Delhi, Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader who recently switched over to the Trinamool Congress, tweeted that the NCP patriarch was hosting a meeting of his “Rashtra Manch", a political action group he set up in 2018.
“We shall have a meeting of the Rashtra Manch tomorrow at 4 PM. Sri Sharad Pawar has kindly agreed to host the meeting at his place," Sinha said in what seemed to be an attempt to put to rest the rumours around putting together a Third Front to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This was followed by yet another “clarification” by NCP’s Nawab Malik, who said the meeting would see invitees such as senior advocate KTS Tulsi, former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi, former ambassador KC Singh, lyricist Javed Akhtar, filmmaker Pritish Nandy, senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves, media personalities Karan Thapar and Ashutosh.
The Prashant Kishor connect
The talks of a possible Third Front gained traction on Monday after political strategist Prashant Kishor met Pawar in Delhi for the second time in two weeks. The meeting between the leaders sparked talks of “Mission 2024”, a blueprint to battle BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.
However, Kishor soon shot down the murmurs, denying his involvement in any such “overtures”. He also called the creation of a third front against BJP a “futile exercise". “I have no relation with tomorrow’s meet. My meeting today also has no relation with tomorrow’s Rashtra Manch meeting," said Kishor after his second meet with Pawar.
Yashwant Sinha is also considered close to Kishor, who scripted the Trinamool Congress’ win in West Bengal. Moreover, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s approval of the manch is public knowledge. To add to this, erstwhile TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi has been a participant of the manch’s earlier meetings.
The Bengal angle
The Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) victory in Bengal immediately led to the possibility of a realignment of opposition forces across the country with Pawar playing a key role in weaving the diverse forces together, considering he had stitched together an alliance of the diametrically opposed Shiv Sena and the Congress in Maharashtra.
The dream of a coalition of opposition forces is not an impossible one, given that apart from individual meetings between Uddhav and Mamata, there was much bonhomie and camaraderie between both of them and Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, when she called a virtual meeting of opposition CMs in August last year to discuss the future of medical and engineering students.
On Saturday, heaping praises on the Trinamool Congress supremo, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said, “Mamata Banerjee fought and won West Bengal polls on her own. Despite all kinds of remarks and vitriolic attacks, Bengal showed her willpower. Bengal, which gave a new lease of life to freedom struggle with two words - Vande Mataram, has shown what needs to be done for freedom.”
In yet another Prashant Kishor angle, the poll strategist’s IPAC has been roped in by TMC till the 2026 assembly elections.
According to sources, Kishor’s organisation will continue with the same set-up as before, office and their field presence included. This comes a month after the political strategist had claimed to “quit" as the ‘backroom boss’ or the election manager who led several parties to victory.
The recent Bengal elections had been the toughest test for Kishor with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaving no stone unturned to grab power in the eastern state. Several top TMC leaders and known faces of the Bengal cinema were seen making the saffron brigade stronger with their entry.
The political strategist was also the architect of the first successful anti-BJP mahagathbandhan — in Bihar — in 2015. Besides, he has been instrumental in bringing Jagan Mohan Reddy to power in Andhra Pradesh, MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu and Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.
The Maharashtra churning
Apart from cheering for Mamata Banerjee recently, Thackeray stressed on “regional pride”, saying: “Whenever regional pride is under threat, federal structure comes under pressure. West Bengal is an example of what ‘going solo’ means. Bengal saw all types of attacks, but everyone stood for the Bengali pride. Bengal has shown an example of how to safeguard regional pride.”
Political experts assert that Thackeray’s statement at this juncture is significant as far as opposition unity is concerned. The opposition has seen how CM Banerjee has fought the electoral battle in Bengal. Moreover, Banerjee has rekindled the confidence among other regional opposition powers that BJP can be defeated, come what may. Besides, it also stressed the role of regional powers in mobilizing a united opposition.
The development comes at a time when the Maha Vikas Aghadi is facing an internal crisis, with conjectures of an imminent split amid talks of long-term allies Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena coming back together. Rumours of a patch-up had gained strength over a series of events, including Thackeray’s direct attack on ally Congress, just days after his meeting with PM Modi.
Raut on Monday responded to claims of increasing ferment among constituents of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra. Over the past few days, the Congress has been asserting it would contest upcoming polls on its own, prompting a push-back from the Shiv Sena.
Raut declared the Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP were committed to running the government for five years. “Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP stand united, committed to run government for 5 years. Outsiders who want to form govt and are restless after losing power may try, but government will continue. Attempts may be made to create cracks between Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena but it won’t work."