New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi, fresh out of a crisis over a “dissident” letter by a group of party leaders, has made a big move towards opposition unity along with Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The two leaders have joined forces to call a meeting of Chief Ministers on a range of issues including the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission into engineering and medical courses to be held amid the coronavirus fight.
The opposition Chief Ministers are expected to meet this afternoon to discuss a joint effort to pressure the government to postpone the exams at a time the country is battling a surge in virus cases. The agenda includes the subject of compensation to states who have reported a loss of revenue because of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the time of the pandemic.
The opposition meet is meant to evolve a collective stand ahead of the Thursday meeting of the GST council, in which Chief Ministers will participate. Finance ministers of all states are part of the GST Council, where the opposition chief ministers are expected to jointly demand 14 per cent GST compensation from the government. Opposition-ruled states have accused the centre of a sovereign default in not agreeing to compensate.
Sources say the intent is to rally the opposition for a stronger fight against the BJP-led central government on issues key to students and the middle class. Mamata Banerjee has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi twice asking for the exams to be deferred. The government has so far resisted growing calls for postponing JEE and NEET scheduled next month, saying the exams will be held with full precautions against the virus.
But in the first chink in the opposition unity move, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who leads a coalition government with the NCP and Congress, is unlikely to participate despite Sonia Gandhi’s call. Kerala Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan was also supposed to be among the invitees but there was strong opposition from the Congress in Kerala. An invite did, however, go to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal but sources say he declined too.
Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday spoke to Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray and Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren to invite them to the online meet.
Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee’s meeting will also feature all four Congress chief ministers.
The interim Congress chief’s effort is seen to also deliver a message to her own party, especially the ginger group that wrote to her complaining about a drift in the party, a weakening of its position as the main opposition, and asking for a “full-time, visible leadership” to better take on the ruling BJP.
At a seven-hour Congress meeting on Monday, this group of “dissidents” was isolated and completely outnumbered as the party reaffirmed Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.