It was for the first time since Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure as Prime Minister that the BJP was taking part in a DMK event. Yet, a memorial meet for the Tamil party's patriarch M Karunanidhi in Chennai on Thursday turned into a platform for the opposition to extend efforts at uniting regional parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and dislodge the BJP from the centre.
While Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, who attended the event instead of BJP chief Amit Shah, said the DMK and erstwhile Jan Sangh were the "first two parties" to "challenge the domination of Congress" and oppose emergency in 1975, leaders of non-BJP parties who spoke later, slammed the Narendra Modi government for enforcing an "undeclared emergency".
Though MK Stalin did not address the meeting, he had set the tone when he made a lacerating attack on the BJP in his speech after assuming the post of party chief two days ago, accusing it of 'saffronising' the country.
The most candid was Derek O'Brien, MP from the Trinamool Congress. Winning applause for his speech in Tamil, he called for regional parties to join hands. "All regional parties should join hands and capture power in Delhi in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Let all federal parties work together. We are ready, are you ready?" he said. The future, he added, "is in states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka."
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said the nation was witnessing "a state patronised emergency, undeclared and worse than the declared emergency (1975)."
Recollecting his association with Karunanidhi, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad took on the centre. Describing Karunanidhi as a democrat, he appeared to counter Mr Gadkari, saying, "If Emergency was bad, much worse things are now being done. Karunanidhi would have reacted strongly against 'saffronisation' had he been alive. I am sure Stalin will stand up like his father".
The meeting was also attended by Janata Dal Secular leader Deve Gowda, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and the Nationalist Congress Party's Praful Patel- and they all took on the BJP.
Puducherry Chief Minister Narayanasamy and AAP leader Somnath Bharathi recollected how prophetic Karunanidhi was years ago in opposing the position of Governors and how Karunanidhi's efforts paved the way for Chief Ministers raising the national flag on Independence Day.
Calling Karunanidhi, who died earlier this month at 94, a doyen of social reforms who was instrumental in implementing Mandal Commission recommendations, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked DMK Chief MK Stalin to "fulfil Karunanidhi's promise of prohibition in Tamil Nadu".
(With inputs from PTI)