Nitish Kumar with Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mallikarjun Kharge, Mamata Banerjee, Sitaram Yechury and others during a joint opposition press conference after the meeting, in Patna on June 23, 2023. (Pic/PTI)
Leaders who attended the Patna meeting told News18 on condition of anonymity that the discussion was primarily on blaming the Modi government for using central agencies against opposition and the Manipur violence
As 32 leaders from more than a dozen opposition parties held a high-optics meeting in Patna on Friday, the BJP, predictably, refused to accord it any importance. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s disregard turned into ridicule as the day progressed and public contradictions and even a war of words broke out within the opposition camp.
Though in Jammu, union home minister Amit Shah didn’t let go of the opportunity to hit out at the Patna huddle. “Today a photo session is underway in Patna,” said Shah. “No matter how many parties come for the meeting, they can never unite.”
He also took on the opposition’s challenge. “I want to inform them that PM Modi will form his government in the 2024 Lok Sabha Polls with more than 300 seats,” Shah said.
The meeting ended in Patna with Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal refusing to attend the joint press conference and AAP hit out at the Congress, alleging that it was helping the Narendra Modi government. AAP blamed the Congress for not being supportive on the Delhi ordinance issue. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had already asked the Congress to support the Trinamool Congress in her state if it wants support elsewhere. Sensing the rift ahead of the start of the meeting, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said, “I request everyone to give up on their differences and get united to save democracy.” With so many contradictions at play, BJP fielded its fiery orator Smriti Irani to launch an attack.
Appearing at the BJP headquarters at 6A Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, the union minister announced, “Unholy alliance ke sath kya unhoni hone wali hai (The unholy alliance will face disaster).” Highlighting the striking contradictions that the opposition parties failed to conceal, Irani said, “Congress workers are beaten under Mamata Banerjee’s rule and now she is sharing dais with the Congress.” She went on to attack Banerjee, a key constituent of the alliance. “Never would TMC workers have thought that she will share the dais with CPI(M).” The TMC is in an acrimonious relationship with the CPI(M) and the Congress in West Bengal which often results in inter-party violence.
Earlier in the day, she had derided the opposition huddle, stating that by coming together to oust the BJP in 2024, the opposition parties exhibited that they are “incapable of defeating Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone”.
If the BJP’s top guns went from employing ridicule to a dismissive tone throughout the day, party president JP Nadda used the opportunity to not just train guns at another key constituent, Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, but also mend the perceived deterioration of relations with its own ally Eknath Shinde’s party. Calling Thackeray’s father Balasaheb a “Hindu Hriday Samrat”, Nadda lashed out at the Shiv Sena (UBT) chief. “Balasaheb Thackeray used to say that he will not allow Shiv Sena to become Congress. If I have to join hands with the Congress, I will close my shop. Today Balasaheb Thackeray must be thinking that his own son has closed the shop of Shiv Sena.”
The BJP didn’t just use powerful adjectives to dismiss the so-called opposition unity, which trended on Twitter throughout the day. It also put up giant posters outside its party office in Patna, where the meeting took place. In the posters, a photo of Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the largest opposition party, is placed along with Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s photo with a tweaked quote from the SRK-starrer Devdas. In the poster, the famous “Babuji ne kaha gaon chhod do” lines of SRK were added with a twist next to Rahul Gandhi, reading, “Mamata Didi asked to leave Bengal, Kejriwal asked to leave Delhi and Punjab…that day is not far when everyone will ask Congress (Rahul) to leave politics.”
As the day ended, the BJP was brimming with smiles. Inter-party differences oozed out, no seat-sharing arrangements were discussed, and not even a common minimum programme was part of the discourse at the Patna meeting, say sources. Leaders who were present there told News18 on conditions of anonymity that the discussion was primarily on blaming the Modi government for using central agencies against the opposition, and the Manipur violence. Not even the caste census found a place for deliberation, they conceded. No wonder then, another venue is selected for another huddle. This time it is in Shimla where the Congress will play host.