In a major step towards forging a united anti-Bharatiya Janata Party front, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar and other prominent opposition leaders on Sunday called for a new alliance that includes the Congress for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, stressing that a bipolar contest will ensure the BJP's defeat.
"There is no question of a Third Front. There should be one front that includes the Congress. Then we can trounce the BJP in 2024," Kumar said as he joined a mega rally organised by the Indian National Lok Dal Fatehabad to mark former deputy prime minister Devi Lal's birth anniversary.
INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala and Shiromani Akali Dal's Sukhbir Singh Badal, both with a long history of fighting the Congress, were on the stage with other senior leaders such as Pawar, Communist Party of India-Marxist's Sitaram Yechury, Bihar deputy Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav and Arvind Sawant of the Shiv Sena.
The leaders attacked the BJP, accusing it of trying to create "Hindu-Muslim disturbances" to benefit politically and making false claims and promises.
Referring to the stir against the agri laws, Pawar said farmers and youths committing suicide is not a solution, but the real solution is to bring about a change.
Everyone must strive for a change in the government at the Centre in 2024, he said.
No one from the Congress, a staunch rival of INLD in Haryana, attended the rally. Regional bigwigs like West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, who have shown an inclination towards a non-Congress alliance in the past, also stayed away from the rally, besides Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.
Significantly, Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at her residence in the national capital after the rally.
With one leader after another pitching for a larger unity among opposition parties, Janata Dal-United leader KC Tyagi said in his speech that the rally marked the beginning of the coming together of non-BJP parties in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
There is no real Hindu-Muslim conflict in society, Nitish Kumar said in his address, adding that some mischief-makers are present everywhere.
A large number of Muslims chose to remain in India after the Partition in 1947, he added.
Kumar suggested that an opposition front cannot be envisaged without the Congress and the Left parties.
He urged leaders on the dais, including some with a strong anti-Congress history, to work for a larger unity and said this "main front of opposition" will ensure that the saffron party loses badly in the 2024 general elections.
Farmers staged protests on the borders of the national capital, but the central government did not heed their demands for a very long time, Pawar said.
RJD leader and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav said the JD-U, SAD and the Shiv Sena left the BJP-led NDA to save the Constitution and democracy.
"Where is the NDA now," he asked.
He accused the BJP of making false claims and promises and dubbed it as Badka Jhuta Party (big lying party).
He alleged that the BJP does not want real issues such as price rise and unemployment to be discussed and instead harps on topics like "Musalmaan, Pakistan, mandir and masjid".
The RJD leader called for fighting the BJP, saying those who will be scared of it will be finished while those who take it on will win.
He said Kumar has struck down the BJP with a hammer blow from which it will not be able to recover.
Yadav said the BJP wants everyone except those aligned to it and the RSS to be finished and lauded farmers of Haryana and Punjab, saying they taught the party a lesson, a reference to their protests against the now-repealed farm laws.
The BJP government is selling out all public firms and wanted to sell off farmers' land as well, he alleged and also attacked it for 'Agniveer' scheme, a short-term recruitment programme in the armed forces.
Badal said his party along with the Shiv Sena and the JD-U are the ''real NDA'' as they had founded the alliance.
"The real NDA is sitting here, it was founded by Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and JD-U. We stood by BJP when it was a relatively smaller party. But now it is time to form an alliance for farmers and labourers," the Akali Dal chief said.
While leaving the rally venue, Kumar told reporters he was not a contender for the prime minister's post.
No real work is happening under the BJP government at the Centre, he alleged, accusing it of imposing its control over different institutions, including the media, to peddle a "one-sided" narrative.
Seven parties are together in Bihar and the BJP is all alone, the Janata Dal-United leader said, adding that the BJP can't win in the elections.