Akhilesh Yadav (R) is the Samajwadi Party boss and a former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister (File).
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Samajwadi Party boss Akhilesh Yadav will both skip Wednesday's INDIA bloc meeting, sources told NDTV this morning. The Janata Dal (United) leader and Mr Yadav, a former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, become the second and third high-profile leaders to skip the meet called by the Congress, underlining the growing chasm in a group meant to unite the opposition and defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP in next year's Lok Sabha election.
UPDATE | Congress Defers INDIA Alliance Meet After Top Leaders RSVP No
Sources told NDTV Nitish Kumar conveyed his decision to Mallikarjun Kharge, when the Congress chief spoke to him on the phone to invite him, and said JDU President Rajiv Ranjan and senior leader Sanjay Jha will attend the Delhi meeting on his behalf. Sources, however, indicated that the other half of the Bihar government - the Rashtriya Janata Dal - is likely to be represented by its top leaders - party patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav and his son Tejashwi Yadav, who is the Bihar Deputy Chief Minister.
Akhilesh Yadav, meanwhile, may send Ramgopal Yadav, his uncle, sources said. Mr Yadav - who has squabbled with the Congress more than once in the past months, including criticising his ally over failed seat-sharing talks for the Madhya Pradesh election - reportedly wants a personal invite too.
On Monday, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she would not attend either; the fiery Trinamool leader, who also has a tense relationship with the Congress, said she was "not aware" of the meeting and had prior commitments in northern Bengal on the day. "I am not aware about this (meeting). I have scheduled a seven-day programme in north Bengal... had I known, I would have surely gone for it. But, because we have no information, I am going for the north Bengal tour," she said.
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In Ms Banerjee's case, sources said her party may skip the meeting too - a move, if true, that will be seen as a signal of sharp discontent within INDIA exacerbated by the Congress' dismal defeats in Sunday's Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections.
The Bengal leader - who created a flutter after opposing INDIA's caste census resolution at its last meeting in Mumbai - seemed to rebuke the Congress after the hat-trick of defeats, "... we suggested a seat-sharing deal. They (the Congress) lost because of division of votes..." she told the Assembly.
However, she stopped short of more critical comments and said the bloc "will learn from the mistakes".
READ |"Defeat Of Congress, Not The People": Mamata Banerjee On BJP's 3-State Win
Mamata Banerjee's comments seemed to echo the sentiments of other INDIA members, including Akhilesh Yadav, who suggested regional parties had to lead the fight against the BJP wherever possible to maximise their influence over voters. The Samajwadi Party and the Congress had squabbled over seat-sharing in the build-up to the Madhya Pradesh election. Data after the election suggests the Congress would have benefitted from an on-ground alliance rather than going it alone.
Mr Kharge called for the meeting Sunday afternoon, after the Congress had taken early leads in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and was in a neck-and-neck race with the BJP in Madhya Pradesh.
READ | Congress, Set To Lose In 3 States, Calls INDIA Meet On Wednesday: Sources
In a cruel twist of fate, shortly afterwards the party fell behind, badly, in all three. The BJP, eventually, swept the Hindi heartland states. All three states were picked up by the Congress in 2018.
Tomorrow's INDIA bloc meeting is expected to chalk out the strategy ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election, which is now increasingly tilting in favour of third consecutive term for the BJP.
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