Barely days after Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao spoke of a Third Front without mentioning the Congress, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, has planned a dinner meet with all the top Opposition leaders on March 13.
The move will be seen as an attempt by the principal Opposition party to end the frostiness among former UPA allies and divide in Opposition ranks.
Breaking its silence over attempts to form a Third Front of regional parties in the run up to the 2019 general elections, the Congress on Monday said there was no curb on aspirations in a democracy but the party’s fight against the Modi government was an ideological one.
“In a democracy, every individual or political party is permitted to have aspirations and I don’t think anybody should curb them…So our best wishes to everybody who has an eye on assuming power in 2019. For the Congress party, this is an ideological battle for the foundational values of India,” the Congress’ communication head Randeep Surjewala said.
Asked if the efforts would impact Opposition unity and help the ruling party by splitting anti-BJP, votes, he said, “I think it’s a question that should be put to those political parties who appear to be more guided by personal growth or individual ambition rather than putting up a cumulative fight for protecting India’s civilisational values.”
Churn in Opposition
Following the Assembly election results last Saturday that established BJP “from being no one to number one in the North East” in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words, there has been a churn among top Opposition leaders that doesn’t involve the Congress.
From a potential non-BJP, non-Congress front for 2019 to forming an immediate alliance for the bypolls to two crucial Lok Sabha seats, the principal Opposition party seems to have been isolated.
In Parliament too, other Opposition parties didn’t join Congress’ protest over bank scams on Tuesday and so far, there has been no meeting to devise a joint Opposition strategy
In Uttar Pradesh, arch rivals — Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) — came together to take on the BJP in the crucial bypolls for the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats. The move has left the Congress fighting alone.
“There is no question of us withdrawing our candidates,” said Pramod Tiwari, Congress MP from U.P. in the Rajya Sabha.
Congress leaders argue that their party was the first to announce candidates for U.P. bypolls as it wants to strengthen its grassroot level organisation and workers.
Interestingly, BSP chief Mayawati’s decision to back the SP comes barely days after expelled BSP leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui joined the Congress party. The BSP is part of an anti-Congress alliance in Karnataka too that is led by H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) and includes Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.
Former UPA ally and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee too has been proactive in rallying regional parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Shiv Sena, DMK and AAP for a possible Third Front. The churn has not gone down well with the Congress.