New Delhi: Congress President Sonia Gandhi sounded the bugle for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections at a virtual meeting of 19 Opposition parties. The Congress president said that 2024 was the “ultimate goal”, and added: “This is a challenge, but together we can and must rise to it because there is simply no alternative to working cohesively together.” She urged all the Opposition parties “to begin to plan with the single-minded objective of giving to our country a government that believes in the values of the freedom movement and in the principles and provisions of our Constitution”. After the virtual meeting, the 19 parties pledged in a four-page joint statement to start an agitation against the Central government in the last 10 days of September across the country.
The joint statement had 11 specific demands from the government – that include speeding up of the vaccination programme, repeal of the three controversial agricultural laws, direct cash transfer of Rs 7,500 per month to families outside the income-tax bracket, to control inflation and reduce duties on fuel, augment MNREGA, give stimulus for MSME, stop rampant privatisation of national assets, fill up job vacancies and to legislate for an urban employment guarantee.
The joint statement further said: “Hold an immediate Supreme Court-monitored judicial inquiry into the use of the Pegasus spyware for surveillance of people. High-level investigation into the Rafale deal -- the cancellation of the earlier order and placing of a new order at higher cost.” It further added: “Release all political prisoners, including those under draconian the UAPA in Bhima Koregaon case and the anti-CAA protests. Stop using other draconian laws like sedition/NSA to violate the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people. Release all media personnel detained for exercising their fundamental right of freedom of expression.” On Jammu and Kashmir, the parties demanded the release of all political prisoners and holding of elections at the earliest.
In her opening remarks, Mrs Sonia Gandhi blamed the government’s “obstinate and arrogant unwillingness to discuss and debate urgent issues of public importance” for the complete washout of Parliament. “In spite of this, the session was marked by the determined unity that all Opposition parties demonstrated for over 20 days in both Houses. We functioned in a coordinated manner with daily discussions among our floor leaders,” she said. The other leaders present at the meeting also blamed the government for the non-functioning of the Monsoon Session of Parliament.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was also present at the meeting, proposed forming a core group of Opposition leaders to decide on joint movements against the Central government. She said: “Let us forget who the leader is and let us keep our personal interests aside. Every Opposition party should be brought in. Let us set up a core group and work together to decide on the next line of action and programmes.” NCP supremo Sharad Pawar tweeted after the meeting to say that all democratic and secular parties must come together and draw up a “time-bound action plan”. He added: “The current scenario in India appears very gloomy. Farmers are protesting for many months, it’s an anguishing picture for a democratic country like India.”
Besides the Congress, representatives of 18 Opposition parties attended the meeting. It also saw the participation of the chief ministers of four states: Ms Banerjee of West Bengal, M.K. Stalin of Tamil Nadu, Uddhav Thackeray of Maharashtra and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand. Besides Mr Pawar, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, former Union minister Sharad Yadav, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti attended. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Congress leaders were also part of the meeting.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav was also invited; but he sent a letter excusing himself as he was touring the interior areas of Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, the Bahujan Samaj Party, AAP and Akali Dal had not been invited to the virtual meeting.