A big meeting today called by Mamata Banerjee to discuss a joint strategy for the Presidential election next month sorely tested opposition unity amid efforts by various leaders to put up a front to take on the ruling BJP in polls ahead, including the 2024 national election.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, who had bonded with Mamata Banerjee over their common goal of defeating the BJP, opted out of the meeting this morning, raising strong objections to the Congress being invited. Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is likely to be another significant absentee, sources say.
"There is no question of sharing any platform with the Congress," said the TRS in a pungent note.
The party said the Congress had been invited despite its objections and lashed out at its leader Rahul Gandhi. "Rahul Gandhi, in a recent public meeting in Telangana had targeted the TRS government without any word of criticism against the BJP," the note said, accusing the Congress of "ganging up with the BJP" in Telangana, especially in recent by-polls.
The TRS also complained against what it called the "method of trying to put up an opposition presidential candidate".
"Even otherwise, TRS is not in agreement with this method of trying to put up an opposition presidential candidate. In this case, the candidate was already chosen, and the candidate's opinion was taken, after which the meeting was called. Why was it done this way? The right procedure would have been to hold meetings, arrive at a consensus, take the candidate's approval, and then announce the name after a meeting," the party fumed. TRS sources said "many important leaders" were likely to stay away from the meeting.
The presidential elections will take place on July 18 and the results will be declared on July 21.
Mamata Banerjee has invited 22 political parties to the meeting in Delhi to discuss a united fight against the BJP and its allies in the election for a new President of India. Soon after arriving in Delhi, the Bengal Chief Minister met with NCP leader Sharad Pawar at his home amid speculation that he could be the opposition's choice for the top post.
Sharad Pawar has reportedly declined the offer. His party says the veteran is reluctant to fight a losing battle as he doubts the opposition will have the numbers to push its candidate for the top job. Among those who had rooted for him were the Congress and the Shiv Sena, his allies in Maharashtra.
AAP, also dropping out of the meeting, said it will "consider the matter only after the Presidential candidate is declared".
The Congress and the Left, who are Mamata Banerjee's rivals in Bengal, have both confirmed their participation in the meeting.
Among the leaders who are likely to attend the meet are Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) president and Chief Minister Hemant Soren, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, CPI's Binoy Viswam and CPM's Elamaram Kareem.
The DMK's TR Baalu, Shiv Sena's Subhash Desai, RLD's Jayant Chaudhary, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party's Mehbooba Mufti are also expected to join. So are former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal Secular.
Mamata Banerjee has also sent an invitation to former BJP ally Akali Dal but the party is unlikely to attend the meeting.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is also not expected to show up. The party had been invited in an attempt to bring it over to the opposition's corner.
Mr Patnaik, who had backed the BJP-led coalition in the last presidential election, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah last month.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi said he was not invited. "We have not been invited and we would not have attended because Congress party has been invited," Mr Owaisi said.