Ahead of the crucial third round of discussions, the opposition INDIA bloc on Wednesday exuded confidence that it would provide a formidable alternative to bring political change in the country and asserted that it has several prime ministerial faces against BJP's only one.
The opposition alliance also expanded its ambit to 28 parties by including two regional outfits -- the Peasants and Workers Party of India (PWP), a Marxist political party in Maharashtra, and another regional outfit.
As many as 63 representatives from 28 political parties will attend the meeting of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) on August 31 and September 1 at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Mumbai.
The alliance leaders are getting together for the third round of the brainstorming session, after Patna and Bengaluru, to chalk out their common campaign strategy to take on the NDA in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The alliance would announce a coordination committee, which could be of 11 members from principal opposition parties, and will unveil a logo for the bloc.
The opposition alliance is also likely to hold discussions on whether to have a convenor or not and whether there will be some sub-groups to handle seat sharing, agitational joint programmes, communication strategy and chalk out the common minimum programme.
Several chief ministers and senior leaders including Mamata Banerjee and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad have already arrived, besides former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, while Akhilesh Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Hemant Soren, M K Stalin, Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann would arrive on Thursday.
Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and party chief Mallikarjun Kharge will also land in Mumbai on Thursday, after which they will attend a dinner hosted by Uddhav Thackeray.
Mamata Banerjee on her arrival in Mumbai tied Rakhi on Thackeray and Amitabh Bachchan.
To a query on who will be the INDIA alliance PM candidate, Mamata Banerjee said, "India will be our PM face. Our primary concern is to save the country," she said.
Addressing a press conference in Mumbai, NCP leader Sharad Pawar said he has confidence that the opposition alliance will provide a formidable alternative to bring about a political change in the country.
He said there has been no discussion on seat-sharing within the INDIA alliance.
Pawar said there is no confusion over the NCP. People will teach those who have left a lesson, he added, targeting estranged nephew Ajit Pawar who joined the Eknath Shinde-led government in Maharashtra last month.
Asked about BSP chief Mayawati, Pawar said, "It is not known on whose side she is. Earlier she has had a dialogue with BJP."
On Muslim parties like the AIUDF not being part of the alliance, Pawar said, "They have spoken with me and are inclined to go with us. But I can't decide on this alone; we will have to speak with the Congress and Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena on this. There will be a collective decision on that and till then accepting their overtures is difficult."
He said there is no such proposal on the inclusion of Akali Dal, "but, if they are inclined we can think about it."
However, he said, it is not easy because we have Arvind Kejriwal whose party is ruling Punjab and the Congress party has a different policy there.
"That is why we will not do anything that enhances our differences," he noted.
"There are diverse parties but they can sit together, discuss and prepare a common minimum programme," Pawar added.
Former chief minister and Shiv Sena (UBT) president Uddhav Thackeray said the alliance of opposition parties belonging to different ideologies has the common objective of protecting democracy and 'Bharat Mata'.
On the INDIA alliance PM face, Thackeray said, "We have a lot of choices, the question is what choice the BJP has."
"We have seen what has been done by the person who was there for 10 years, everyone has had his experience and now the question is before the BJP as they have to win elections," Thackeray said.
He said they saw what happened in Karnataka as they did not get any success despite bringing in Bajrang Bali, who did not give his aashirwad (blessings) to BJP.
"So the question is before them as to what choices do they have, who will become (PM)," he noted.
To a query on the issue of who will be the INDIA convenor, Thackeray asked, "Who is NDA's convenor?"
Taking a swipe at the Centre over its decision to slash the LPG cylinder price by Rs 200 as a 'Raksha Bandhan gift', he said as the INDIA alliance progresses, a time will come when the central government will provide gas cylinders free of cost. He claimed that the BJP-led government is running on gas.
"Was there no Raksha Bandhan during the last nine years? As INDIA (alliance) advances, LPG cylinders will be given free. No matter what they (government) do, people are smart and understand everything," Thackeray said.
On whether a convenor would be appointed for the INDIA alliance, the former Maharashtra chief minister said, "Let's wait for the meeting, let deliberations take place."
"Does anyone know who is the convenor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)," he asked.
On being asked if he would be projected as the opposition's PM candidate, Thackeray said jokingly, "I will go and take oath tomorrow."
"Our ideology may be different but our objective is the same to protect the country," he noted.
Thackeray said the British were also doing development, but "Over the development is our freedom. We have come together to protect our freedom."
The former Maharashtra CM said he did not agree with the term 'Opposition', as "we have come together to protect the country, Bharat Mata. We are against dictatorship and jumlebazi."
He said that the INDIA alliance has helped reduce the price of gas cylinders by Rs 200.
"I feel that as INDIA keeps on progressing, one day will come the government will give the gas cylinder for free because the government is also running on gas," he noted.
About the NDA's meeting, he said they should not just oppose us but do something positive for people as there is a famine-like situation in Maharashtra. "He will come and will give some bhoolbhulaiya and leave, which will not amount to anything."
Former CM and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan said in 2019, non-BJP parties got 23 crore votes, while BJP got 22 crore. "If we work together, we can win," he added.
Chavan said Maharashtra has led many a revolution in the past and this time too it will lead the political revolution in the country, while referring to a change of guard in the country.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah said the Panthers Party from Jammu will also attend the alliance meetings on August 31 and September 1.
"The foremost agenda would be how to win polls, what will be our main plank on which we will contest elections. Discussions will also take place about how to save the Constitution, the feeling of brotherhood in the country, and how to bridge the rift created on religious lines," Abdullah said.
The opposition alliance would also chalk out a joint campaign strategy to take on the NDA in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and iron out the differences among themselves to help further strengthen their body.