Sharad Pawar calls opposition meet tomorrow

New Delhi: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar has called a meeting of opposition parties tomorrow to explore a joint fight against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, not just in the 2024 national election but also in Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due next year.

Invitations have gone to several parties on behalf of Sharad Pawar and former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who joined the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee just before the Bengal election.

“Sharad Pawar ji and Shri Yashwant Sinha ji are co-chairing a discussion on the present national scenario. Yashwant Sinha has requested your kind presence and participation in the meeting,” says the invite sent out by Rashtra Manch, Sinha’s outfit.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj Jha, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Sanjay Singh, Congress leaders Vivek Tankha and Kapil Sibal and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah are some of the invitees. Sibal has reportedly declined, so has Jha. Tamil Nadu’s ruling DMK will be represented by Tiruchi Shiva.

The NCP’s Nawab Malik revealed a broader list that includes “eminent persons” from various fields – these include retired Justice AP Singh, poet Javed Akhtar, KTS Tulsi, Ashutosh, former election commissioner SY Qureshi, lawyer Colin Gonsalves and journalists Karan Thapar and Pritish Nandi.

They “will attend the meeting to discuss the current scenario in our country,” Malik said in tweets.

Reacting to initial reports that the Congress was not invited, the party’s Maharashtra leader Nana Patole added to his litany of provocative statements over the past few days. “In a democracy everyone has a right to do whatever they want to. We won’t stop anyone. But there can be no front without the Congress,” he said, adding that this was not the first time that Pawar was trying to organise a third front.

Details of the opposition meeting emerged after Sharad Pawar’s discussions with poll strategist Prashant Kishor in Delhi today. The two met for the second time in two weeks amid speculation about a plan for “Mission 2024” to fight the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the next national election. They had last met on June 11 at Sharad Pawar’s Mumbai home for three hours.

Sources say apart from talks on a joint opposition candidate to challenge PM Modi, tomorrow’s meeting will also facilitate an “exploratory exercise” to try and evolve an alternative to the BJP focusing on Uttar Pradesh, where there is sharp discontent against the BJP’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. “Some sections of the BJP are silently supporting Pawar, who has understood that there is a huge decline in the popularity of PM Modi and that there is a need to take on the BJP,” sources say.

Many parties have indicated their willingness to join such a grouping, say the sources. Pawar, one of the canniest and senior most politicians in India, has been involved in crafting the unlikeliest of coalition governments and fronts over the years.

The election victory in Bengal, sources say, is being held up as an example that it is possible to outmaneuver the BJP and its virtually invincible poll machinery.

Kishor’s client Mamata Banerjee, who won a third straight term in West Bengal after fighting off a difficult challenge from the BJP, was asked whether she saw herself as the opposition prime ministerial candidate. “I think all together, we can fight the battle for 2024. But let’s fight Covid first,” she had said soon after the verdict.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut had talked about the need for an alliance of opposition parties at the national level. Raut had said that he had spoken Sharad Pawar on this.

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