Perfect opportunity: Mamata calls opposition meet ahead of Presidential poll on June 15

Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee on Saturday called a meeting of 22 opposition parties including the Congress in New Delhi on June 15 to decide on a united opposition strategy and candidate for the Presidential election next month.

On Thursday, the Election Commission announced that the Presidential poll will be held on July 18, six days before the term of President Ramnath Kovind ends. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is short of a few thousand votes but the support of any of the regional parties would be enough for it to win. Votes will be counted on July 21.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday nominated leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge as the nodal person to hold consultations with the opposition party leaders to have a consensus candidate to take on the ruling alliance. Kharge on Thursday and Friday called Mamata Banerjee, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and leaders from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and several other smaller parties, seeking their support to forge an alliance for the polls.

Presidential poll: Candidate must have 50 MPs, MLAs as proposers, another 50 as seconders

On Saturday, the Trinamool Congress supremo sent letters to 22 non-BJP leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi and chief ministers of eight non-BJP ruled states. “The Presidential elections are around the corner, presenting the perfect opportunity for all progressive opposition parties to reconvene and deliberate on the future course of Indian politics,” she wrote.

“In perusal of the same, I urge you to kindly make it convenient for all of us to meet at the Constitution Club in New Delhi on June 15 at 3 pm,” the letter said.

The list includes Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Odisha, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, chief minister of Telangana, Thiru MK Stalin, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister of Maharastra, Hemant Soren chief minister of Jharkhand and Bhagwant Singh Mann, chief minister of Punjab among others.

“The election is monumental because it gives legislators the opportunity to participate in deciding the head of the state who is the custodian of our democracy. At a time when our democracy is going through troubled times, I believe that a fruitful confluence of opposition voices is the need of the hour; to echo the deprived and unrepresented communities,” she wrote in the letter.

Welcoming the initiative, a Congress leader aware of the developments said setting up a united opposition candidate is badly needed and indications are that it would be a non-Congress candidate. “There are no names as of now. We have to find a strong political candidate. Let a name evolve organically at the meeting on June 15,” the leader said.

He added that Kharge is expected to visit the opposition party leaders in the next week in an effort to bring them together. However, Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao has also started discussions with regional party leaders for an opposition candidate. It is, however, not clear whether he will agree to a candidate endorsed by the Congress, the main opposition party in Telangana.

Samik Bhattacharya, Bengal BJP spokesperson, said: “Such letters have no political significance. These are like students who stay up the whole night a day before the exam to study hard to make a mark. Such efforts have been made earlier too but nothing materialised. Tomorrow you may find that another leader has sent letters to 44 leaders.”

This is, however, not the first time that the TMC chief has sent such a letter to non-BJP leaders. In March this year she wrote a letter to non-BJP chief ministers and opposition parties accusing the BJP of using central agencies to harass political opponents. In April 2021, she urged non-BJP parties to unite against the BJP and its government.