Moves to form an anti-BJP federal front gained momentum on Friday, as prominent regional leaders backed the idea at Mamata Banerjee’s swearing-in ceremony as West Bengal chief minister.
Taking the lead was former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (Dal) chief Lalu Prasad who said opposition unity was imperative.
“All like-minded parties will sit together to resist the spread of the BJP. If we don’t come together now, BJP and the Sangh Parivar will end up dividing the country,” he told journalists after the oath-taking ceremony.
Yadav made the remarks in the presence of several leaders who could make up and also perhaps lead such a front. They included Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and Akhilesh Yadav -- the chief ministers of Bihar, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh -- respectively. M Kanimozhi, the daughter of DMK chief M Karunanidhi, was also in attendance.
The idea comes ahead of crucial polls early next year in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is hoping to use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity to ride to power for the first time in about 15 years.
Regional parties also feel that they stand a better chance to defeat the BJP in the 2019 general elections following the triumph of state-level heavyweights such as Banerjee, Jayalalithaa, Prasad and Kumar.
Banerjee’s swearing-in was attended by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, who insisted such a coming together was a failed idea.
“The federal front is a testing, trying and failed idea. There have been talks of federal front before. Small parties have tried for that. But lack of leadership has made it unsuccessful. We are not thinking anything about it,” he told reporters at the Kolkata Press Club.
But Jaitley was conspicuously absent when the regional leaders were seen posing for photographs with leaders of Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
After the ceremony, Prasad found ready support from host Banerjee, who welcomed the idea of a federal combine.
“The federal front is a good idea. I will help in it if anybody seeks it. But I don’t want anything (read, leadership position) as I am too tied up in Bengal,” she said at a press conference.
Farooq Abdullah, the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, also supported the initiative. “Various parties working to ensure a united India have to come together. We need to discuss it with different parties, and of course, Mamata Banerjee is one of them,” he said.
Last year, Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) buried differences and put up a united front to stop the BJP’s impressive run in state elections. The combine, Mahagathbandhan, crushed the saffron alliance in the Bihar polls.
With 35 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 11 in Rajya Sabha, the Trinamool can become an important component of any anti-BJP front.
The Left parties have been a part of such initiatives before but the leaders of any such emerging front will have to choose between the Left and its arch-rival Trinamool. The Left boycotted Banerjee’s swearing-in ceremony.