Mamata does not want Rahul Gandhi to be part of any such meeting.

 

Hyderabad: Efforts are underway to hold a meeting of 22 Opposition parties, including Congress, in Delhi on 21 May to discuss the possibility of staking claim for a non-BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government at the Centre in case there is a hung Lok Sabha after counting of votes on 23 May. However, Trinamool Congress president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appears to be not keen on attending such a meeting.

TDP president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has taken the initiative to bring together the 21 Opposition parties that have been fighting on the issue of EVMs. He proposed to hold a meeting of these parties plus Congress in Delhi two days after the seventh and last phase of polling on 19 May. By 21 May, the finding of exit polls, too, would be available, sources close to Naidu said.

Naidu’s intention is to include Congress into the Opposition camp, so that they together can explore the possibility of staking claim to form a government at the Centre, in case BJP fails to cross the simple majority mark. Naidu met both Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi and Mamata Banerjee in Bengal when he went there to campaign for her party.

Naidu shared his ideas over telephone with some other Opposition leaders, including DMK’s Stalin, JDS leader Kumaraswamy and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav. Naidu even proposed to them that the Opposition leaders can seek an appointment with President Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to consider the camp of 22 parties as a single bloc, while inviting the single largest party to form the government in case there is a hung Lok Sabha.

Sources close to the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister told this newspaper that this is intended to pre-empt the chance of BJP being invited first by the President even if it emerges as the single largest party in the new Lok Sabha. Some of the Opposition party leaders, including Farooq Abdullah and Stalin, had agreed to meet in Delhi on 21 May, but Mamata Banerjee is reluctant to turn up, sources said.

The official reason she gave for her inability to make it to the meet is that she needs to be available in Bengal till 23 May, the day of counting of votes. Mamata Banerjee is believed to have told Naidu that she is needed in Bengal to ensure the security of EVMs and it would be not be advisable to leave the state before the results.

However, the TDP leaders are of the view that the Bengal Chief Minister is not happy with the proposal to invite Congress president Rahul Gandhi to the Opposition meeting even before the results are declared. Any such meeting would give undue advantage to the Congress to lead the non-BJP camp which she doesn’t like, the sources said.

Moreover, the absence of Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav from the 21 May meeting would also send signals that they  were not part of the non-BJP camp and it would unnecessarily give a handle to the BJP to exploit the situation, according to the TMC leader. “Didi appears to be not ready for any joint show with the Congress before the results,” said a TDP former MP.

Naidu is yet to decide on whether to go ahead with the meeting without Mamata Banerjee or postpone it. TDP sources said he would take a final call on this after consulting M.K. Stalin and H.D. Kumaraswamy next week. Naidu is firm on sending out the signal that the Opposition parties, along with the Congress, are ahead of the BJP even if the latter emerges as the single largest party.

Naidu has prepared a report on the polling trends in the country and submitted the same to Rahul Gandhi when they met in Delhi on Wednesday. This report is based on the surveys of the first five phases of polling and the projections for the remaining two phases—on 12 and 19 May. TDP leaders have refused to reveal the sources of this survey.

According to a report by Naidu, BJP will emerge the single largest party with 179 seats, followed by Congress with 129 seats. The remaining parties will bag 234 seats in all phases put together. Of the remaining parties, around 40 to 50 may go to BJP, while others are ready to join hands for a non-BJP government.

Naidu is understood to have told Rahul Gandhi to be ready to expand his pre-poll allies in UPA and open talks with new parties, including the Left parties for government formation right after 19 May. According to Naidu, his TDP will come to power again in Andhra Pradesh and win 17 out of 25 MPs, while Jagan’s YSR Congress will get eight MPs.

Naidu is quoting the statement of BJP general secretary Ram Madhav that his party might be roping in some new allies, if it falls short of numbers at the Centre. However, this is dismissed by both BJP and YSR Congress leaders in Andhra. BJP’s AP unit president Kanna Lakshminarayana said that Naidu was indulging in “mind games” as he was afraid of losing power in Andhra Pradesh.

“Where is the need of Opposition staking claim when the BJP on its own would get close to 300 MPs? Naidu’s meetings with different leaders in the last few days were only for public consumption and to instill confidence in his TDP ranks,” BJP spokesperson Chitti Babu said.

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