Sonia Gandhi says Opposition parties will have to plan systematically for 2024 LS elections
New Delhi, August 20, 2021
Congress President Sonia Gandhi today said the Opposition, which had displayed unity on several issues in recent months, would have to begin to plan systematically for its ultimate goal, the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
She said this had to be done with the single-minded objective of giving to the country a government that believes in the values of the freedom movement and in the principles and provisions of the Constitution.
"This is a challenge, but together we can and must rise to it because there is simply no alternative to working cohesively together," she said at a meeting of leaders of about 19 Opposition parties held today through video-conferencing.
"We all have our compulsions, but clearly a time has come when the interests of our nation demand that we rise above them," she said.
"The 75th anniversary of India's independence is indeed the most appropriate occasion for us to reaffirm our individual and collective resolve. Let me say, for its part the Indian National Congress will not be found wanting," she said.
Gandhi began by noting that, though they had not met formally for over a year, they had been in touch with each other in other ways.
She recalled that, on May 12, they had written jointly to the Prime Minister on the vaccination strategy to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, on the repeal of the three new Central farm laws and on the free distribution of food grains to the needy.
"Some crucial changes were introduced in the procurement system of vaccines following our intervention. Needly to say, as always, somebody else has taken the credit. This does not matter, really, as long as the people of the country have benefited," she said.
Similarly, she recalled, the Opposition had issued two public statements jointly on various national issues of common concern -- one on May 23 on the COVID-19 pandemic and another one on May 2, dealing with the repeal of the controversial farm laws and the need for the Government to resume talks with the Samyukta Kisan Morcha.
Gandhi also ntoed that some Opposition leaders had taken up matters of public importance with the Prime Minister directly.
"I understand that Sharad Pawar ji brought to his attention how the new Ministry of Cooperation, led by the Home Minister himself, is a blatant interference in the Constitutional rights and responsibilities of state governments. Mamata ji and Uddhav Thackeray ji emphasised the discrimination against non-BJP-ruled states in vaccine supply, as have some other Chief Ministers," she said.
Gandhi said that, on behalf of the Congress, she had also written to the Prime Minister on many occasions to highlight the need for urgent measures, such as direct cash support, especially to those whose livelihoods had been badly affected.
"The recent monsoon session of Parliament was a complete washout again entirely due to the Government's obstinate and arrogant unwillingness to discuss and debate urgent issues of public importance. These include the Pegasus snooping scandal that afects each and every citizen, the repeal of the three anti-farmer laws, the agitation of farmers that has been going for the past nine months,the price rise of essential commodities and the continuing assault on federalism and the institutions of our democracy," she said.
"In spite of this, the session was marked by the determined unity that all Opposition parties demonstrated for over 20 days inn both the Houses. We functioned in a coordinated manner with daily discussins among our floor leaders.
"It was entirely due to the Opposition parties that the Constitution Amendment Bill was passed to restore the long-standing rights of states to identify and notify OBCs. The Government had erred three years back and, as you well know, this Bill was required to rectify that mistake and because of a subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court.
"I am confident that this unity will be sustained in future sessions of Parliament as well. But the larger political battle has to be fought outside it," she emphasized.
The meeting was attended by leaders of the Trinamool Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the DMK, the Shiv Sena, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the National Conference, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the All India United Democratic Front, the VCK, the Loktantrik Janata Dal, the Janata Dal-Secular, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Kerala Congress-Mani, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the Indian Union Muslim League.
However, the Samajwadi Party, the Aam Aadmi Party, and the Bahujan Samaj Party stayed away.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Congress leaders A. K. Antony and Mallikarjun Kharge, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, CPI leader D. Raja, and PDP's Mehbooba Mufti were among those present.
During the meeting, Soren, who is also the chief of the JMM, said: "We have to struggle and resist all anti-people policies in a more cohesive manner. We have to sharpen our attacks on issues like income increase, inflation, unemployment, farmers issues and Covid management."
Banerjee, who is the Trinamool Congress chief, said: "We should fight the government collectively."
She said that they must forget their internal differences to take the government head on.
The Trinamool Congress leader also raised farmers issues and talked about the dictatorship of the central government.
The meeting called by Sonia Gandhi is being seen as a measure taken by the Gandhi family to reassert their position as the central figures among the Opposition. During the Monsoon Session, former party chief Rahul Gandhi had met several leaders of the Opposition over breakfast.
On the other hand, Congress leader Kapil Sibal had organised a dinner party on August 9 which was attended by several top Opposition leaders.