Mumbai: I.N.D.I.A. bloc leaders deliberate in informal setting to set agenda for main meeting

Mumbai: Top leaders of the INDIA bloc began hectic parleys in an informal setting here on Thursday evening to chart out a concrete roadmap and evolve a structure for cooperation among the alliance partners to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Ahead of dinner hosted by former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, the INDIA bloc leaders met informally and are understood to have deliberated on fixing the agenda of the formal meeting on Friday when key decisions about the alliance’s future strategy would be taken.

The run-up to the meeting saw the Adani issue take centre stage with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi holding a press conference in the premises of Grand Hyatt hotel, where the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) leaders have gathered. .

Before the start of the informal meeting, Gandhi was also seen interacting with Shiv Sena (UBT) leaders, such as Aditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut, as well as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders Supriya Sule and Jayant Patil.

Uddhav Thackeray and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar were also seen engaged in a conversation and sharing light moments ahead of the meeting.

Chief ministers of different states and senior leaders, including West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav and former Jammu and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah had arrived here earlier.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, former party chiefs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Chaudhary, among others, arrived in the country’s financial capital Thursday.

The INDIA bloc is likely to announce a coordination committee as well as unveil a logo for the alliance.

Ahead of the crucial third round of discussions, the alliance on Wednesday exuded confidence that it would provide a formidable alternative to bring a political change in the country and asserted that it has several prime ministerial faces, unlike the BJP.

The opposition alliance has claimed that it has expanded its ambit to 28 parties by including two regional outfits – the Peasants and Workers Party of India (PWP), a Marxist political party in Maharashtra, and another outfit, on whose name there was no clarity.

Sources said expansion of the bloc will be discussed and there is a request from three northeast parties – Asom Jatiya Parishad, Rajor Dal, Anchalik Gan Manch-Bhuyan – to join the alliance and this would be discussed by the opposition bloc.

The leaders have gathered for the third meeting of the alliance here, after Patna and Bengaluru, to chalk out their common campaign strategy to take on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The opposition alliance is likely to announce a coordination committee, which could consist of 11 members from principal opposition parties, and will unveil a logo for the bloc.

It is also likely to hold discussions on whether to have a convenor or not and whether there will be some sub-groups to handle seat sharing, agitational joint programmes, communication strategy and chalk out the common minimum programme.

Earlier in the day, several INDIA bloc leaders reached the venue early and expressed their views on the parties coming together to take on the NDA in 2024.

Several leaders of the alliance said they have come together to save the Constitution and democracy in the country, and would evolve a common programme as they prepare to take on the ruling BJP.

Former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav 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 meet, 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.

Yadav’s son and Bihar deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav said the ‘Maha Gathbandhan’ (grand alliance) came to power in Bihar last August and Lalu Prasad Yadav 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.”.

“People will not forgive us if we don’t meet their expectations,” the RJD leader added.

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 a direction to the youth and set up institutions like JNU, IIMs, ISRO,” she said.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Raghav Chadha claimed that the BJP fears the INDIA alliance.

“They have hatred for the word INDIA and are even linking the name to a terror outfit. It is not just hatred but also fear about (what) if the alliance succeeds,” he said.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray said the INDIA alliance leaders have come together to protect democracy and the Constitution.

RJD leader Manoj Jha said the alliance is working to unite the country. It is not just a coalition of parties but that of ideas, he said.

The country needs healing, and this coalition is for rebuilding the nation and showing mirror to the ruling party, Jha added.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury claimed that people’s response to INDIA has “unnerved” the prime minister and the BJP.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprising the Shiv Sena (UBT), NCP and Congress has formed several committees to plan various aspects of the meeting of the opposition bloc.

This is the first meeting of the opposition INDIA alliance in a state where none of the bloc members are in power. Unity would be the key focus of the meeting.