Sort out Delhi ordinance issue over tea, biscuits: Mamata to AAP, Congress

West Bengal CM Banerjee felt the two parties' differences on the issue were not of relevance to the Opposition meet in Patna

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee (photo: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee (photo: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee suggested on Friday, 23 June, that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) should come to an understanding on the Delhi ordinance issue "over tea and biscuits" sometime in the future. Apparently the Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo felt the meeting of Opposition parties in Patna was not the time and place to air their differences on the topic.

Sources said Banerjee was keen that contention over the ordinance not take over the agenda at Patna, and intervened when AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal insisted that the Congress make an announcement in support of the Delhi state government at the end of the meeting.

Earlier in the day, Congress chairperson Mallikarjun Kharge extended in-principle support to the AAP on the issue, saying the party would not back anything unconstitutional. 

Kharge added that the INC has a set mechanism for taking up such issues internally and any announcement on the topic would only come at a later date. Other Opposition party members agreed the INC's stance was a "reasonable" one.

Sources also said that claims that Kejriwal was on the verge of 'walking out' over this issue were false.

Speaking at the meet, INC leader Rahul Gandhi did not raise the ordinance issue, and instead asserted that he would like the discussions to proceed from a clean slate "without any memory of past likes or dislikes" between any of the parties in attendance.

Gandhi also said the INC would go to considerable lengths to keep the Opposition aligned towards the goal of breaking the financial, institutional and constitutional monopoly of the BJP.

"Incidentally, the West Bengal chief minister was sitting almost equidistant between Kejriwal and Gandhi," the source at the meet said, when she remarked that "a lot of things can be resolved over a good cup of tea and biscuits."

During her own address at the meeting, Banerjee said it was important for all parties to ensure support for the INC wherever the party was the strongest. She added, however, that she believed the BJP would be fighting not the Opposition parties but the people of India themselves, suggesting that the tide in the party's popularity could be seen to have turned.

However, host and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who was the first to speak, did set the scene for an aligned Opposition effort against the BJP, noting that while 15 Opposition parties were in attendance, at least 10 more would join the ranks soon.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad received a rousing welcome from the other party leaders as second speaker.

He suggested (similar to Banerjee, who would speak later) that for the 2024 general elections, the Opposition fight should be led by the biggest party in each state. Requesting the Congress to be large-hearted, he appreciated the party's gesture to speak last after hearing everyone else.

Speaking for the AAP, Kejriwal said that for the 2024 elections, the motto should be "nation first, party second", noting that when parties give up seats for their Opposition partners, it would be a victory for them too. He added, however, that the focus should be on agreeing on issues, not just winning the election. This seemed to set the tone for his argument with the Congress position.

Referring to the possibility of alliances between Opposition parties, DMK's M..K Stalin said every state would require different understandings between parties, a view seconded by National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah, who suggested that while one-on-one battles with the BJP may not be possible for all seats, different seat-sharing options could be worked out.

Both Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena (UBT) and the Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in their addresses looked to identify common values of the Opposition parties.

While Thackeray referred to the Opposition as "deshpremi" (patriots) and "prajatantra premi" (lovers of democracy), Yadav expressed the sentiment in Hindi that "to create a big forum, you need a big heart".

Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) suggested that the Opposition should not just focus on the 2024 polls, but also on the five upcoming state assembly elections.

The CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury asked the leaders to focus foremost on hardships being felt by the people.

All the leaders agreed that the Opposition parties now must corner the government on Manipur and expressed fear that the state could "turn into another Jammu and Kashmir". The BJP-led central government's Union home minister Amit Shah finally acceded to calls for an all-party meeting last week, and has scheduled one for tomorrow, 24 June — though the Congress already slammed it as "too little, too late".

They also all agreed that it was not yet time to decide on a prime ministerial 'face' as of now.

One more meeting of various Opposition parties is expected to be held in the second week of July in Shimla, followed by another in one of the southern states.

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