New Delhi: Leaders of 16 political parties on Thursday pledged to save India’s “composite culture" as they gathered in the capital in a renewed bid to forge opposition unity at a meeting hosted by rebel Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav.
The meeting, called Sanjhi Virasat Bachao (save the composite culture), is the first step by opposition parties to come together after JDU chief Nitish Kumar decided to break away and join hands with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on 26 July to form the government in Bihar.
Kumar’s move caused disaffection among sections of the JDU, with leaders including Sharad Yadav raising concern over the Bihar chief minister’s decision.
Prominent opposition leaders attended Thursday’s meeting, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Jammu and Kashmir National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.
Among those who were not present at the day-long event were Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad.
In a speech, Rahul Gandhi attacked the central government, saying it has failed to keep its promises. He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to create “a Swachh (clean) India but we want Sach (honest) India."
He alleged that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological wellspring, was changing the Constitution of India. “The Constitution gives us the right to have one man, one vote. They want to change the Constitution," Gandhi said.
Responding to the allegations, senior BJP leader and central cabinet minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “His observations are more of a political cry. Today there was a meeting of those who have lost elections. This is an alliance of those who are scared of Narendra Modi and the BJP. Our party works in the most democratic way. We take the nation along when we move forward."
Analysts say Thursday’s meeting was a preliminary step for opposition parties to come together.
“Today’s meeting is a show of strength by the opposition parties. The opposition is down but not out. These are preliminary steps. There are a large number of assembly elections which are coming.... We could see a larger consolidation of parties then," said Subrata Mukherjee, a Delhi-based political analyst and former political science professor at Delhi University. “Nitish joining the NDA has altered the situation is Bihar and politics becomes uncertain if JDU splits."