New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal seems to be missing in action as his counterparts in non-NDA-ruled states are working on phones to plan a convention to make common cause against the Centre’s alleged interference in governance and deliberate on the possibility of the formation of a united front to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2024 general election.
While West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee had called her Tamil Nadu counterpart M.K. Stalin Sunday to propose the convention of opposition CMs, she has not had any such discussion with Kejriwal yet, ThePrint has learnt.
The last time Banerjee spoke to Kejriwal was in July last year, when the two had discussed the possibility of a united opposition front to fight the BJP, especially in the light of the 2024 polls, sources in both political parties told ThePrint.
Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao, who has also been reaching out to his Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra counterparts to form an anti-BJP, anti-Congress front, and eventually plans to meet Banerjee to discuss the matter, has also not been in touch with Kejriwal recently, said sources in the opposition camp.
Senior leaders in the opposition camp confirmed to ThePrint that the Delhi chief minister has so far not been approached regarding the proposed convention.
The opposition leaders, however, maintained that the outcome of the ongoing assembly elections in the five states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa — results of which will be announced on 10 March — are likely to impact plans regarding the proposed states’ convention, as well as the formation of a united front to fight the BJP in 2024. The results are also likely to influence the choice of leader for the opposition front that is currently in the making, the sources said.
Political observers too feel much will depend on the ongoing assembly elections.
Praveen Rai, a political analyst with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, said: “The ongoing polls are an extremely important factor in terms of opposition alliances. A lot of restructuring among the regional parties who aim to fight the BJP at the Centre will take place after the ongoing assembly elections. Even the Congress cannot be dismissed. When it comes to the AAP, Punjab can be a trump card if they win polls in the state. The outcome of the ongoing polls will not only help in shaping up the united front against the BJP, but also give an indication of who can lead it.”
On wait and watch mode
“The process of the united anti-BJP front had to begin. We have started it. As far as Arvind Kejriwal is concerned, I can tell you that we (TMC) have so far not approached him. But you never know what’s there in the future,” TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy told ThePrint.
When asked if the outcome of the ongoing polls will play a role in this regard, Roy said, “Definitely yes”.
A senior AAP leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, meanwhile said that TMC contesting assembly polls in Goa, which has already been a part of the AAP’s expansion plan for a while, has affected Banerjee’s equation with Kejriwal. The leader added that the party was on a wait and watch mode on the proposed anti-BJP front and will likely take a call on it only after the ongoing polls.
ThePrint also reached AAP spokespersons on calls and text messages, but they did not comment on the matter.
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Kejriwal has a history of camaraderie not only with Banerjee, but also some other leaders — Stalin, Rao and Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray — who have so far expressed interest in talks of a united front against the BJP government at the Centre.
In June 2018, when Kejriwal was leading a dharna (sit-in protest) with his ministers outside the Raj Niwas in Delhi over alleged interference in governance by Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Anil Baijal, Banerjee had met Kejriwal’s family to express solidarity in his fight against the BJP-led Union government, which appoints the L-G.
Banerjee had then been accompanied by Telugu Desam Party Leader N. Chandrababu Naidu, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Leader Pinarayi Vijayan and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy. During the protest, Kejriwal had also received support from Thackeray and Stalin.
In November 2020, Rao made a pitch for an anti-BJP coalition of regional parties, for which he said he had spoken to Kejriwal and Banerjee, among others.
Kejriwal and Banerjee also expressed support for one another in their respective confrontations with the BJP-led Union government, regarding administrative issues, between December 2020 and March 2021.
Individually, they have both chalked thumping victories against the BJP in the latest assembly polls in their respective states — while the AAP won 62 out of 70 seats in 2020, TMC won 213 out of 292 seats in the 2021 West Bengal elections.
What changed between them
Speaking to the ThePrint Tuesday, another AAP leader said that while Kejriwal remains on cordial terms with most leaders whose names have surfaced in talks for the united opposition against the BJP, the only exception was Banerjee, who has been working to expand her party’s presence beyond Bengal recently. The leader cited this month’s Goa elections as the main reason for the conflict between the two.
Kejriwal and Banerjee had last met in New Delhi on 28 July 2021, said senior AAP leaders. She had met Congress leader Sonia Gandhi the same day.
“In the meeting, they (Banerjee and Kejriwal) discussed regional politics and plans for a united front to take on the BJP,” said the second senior AAP leader quoted above.
In September 2021, Banerjee announced that her party would contest polls in Goa — where the AAP was already warming up for the elections. In November 2021, when Banerjee came to Delhi to meet opposition leaders, both Gandhi and Kejriwal were ignored, said sources in the two parties.
With her current plan, Banerjee has yet again expressed her intention to forge plans for the future without the Congress — a party of which she has been dismissive for a while — but the question of Kejriwal’s possible inclusion in the opposition alliance, if it works out, remains as yet open.
“Currently, we (AAP) are fully invested in the ongoing polls. Let’s see how things change after that,” said the second AAP leader.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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