The Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition parties on Friday held their rallies in Mumbai, targeting each other over the Constitution and assessing the public mood before chalking out strategies for the big electoral battle in 2019.
A group of opposition leaders took out a "Save the Constitution" (Samvidhan Bachao) march in the afternoon, while the Mumbai BJP organised a "Tiranga Yatra" in the evening. The saffron outfit described its event as "Samvidhan Samman" rally (Honour the Constitution).
Both events were held on the Republic Day which marks the coming into force of the Constitution.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury, rebel Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav, CPI's D Raja, Patidar leader Hardik Patel, Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and senior Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde among others attended the opposition's march.
It started from Oval Maidan near the state secretariat and concluded at the Gateway of India in South Mumbai, covering a distance of around two kilometres.
Addressing the media at the Gateway of India, Pawar said opposition parties will meet in New Delhi on January 29 to decide on the way ahead in the fight against the BJP.
The Maratha strongman said it was a joint decision of the "like-minded" parties to come together and rally to save the Constitution which was under "assault".
"It would be a great disservice to the nation and the Constitution if we do not raise our voice against this," he said.
Yechury claimed that the fundamental rights of people, guaranteed by the Constitution, were being "assaulted" by the ruling party.
"All the opposition parties have come together at the Gateway of India, which was once seen as a sign of slavery but is now a sign of freedom, to save our democratic institutions, for which we have taken an oath," he said.
The CPI-M leader said all political parties, that want to save the nation from being "destroyed" by the BJP, will unite against the saffron outfit.
"Our Constitution ensures equality for all. However, the fundamental rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, are being assaulted," he said.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress alleged that the government has moved towards "dictatorship", and all secular people, who have a stake in democracy, should unite to fight against the BJP.
"They are attempting to change the Constitution and this poses a grave threat to the country," Chavan said.
The march is being seen in political circles as a move by non-BJP parties to cobble up a grand coalition of sorts against the Narendra Modi-led government ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Ever since a Nitish Kumar-led alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the JD-U and the Congress handed down a stunning defeat to the BJP in 2015 Bihar assembly polls, a grand alliance is being seen as the only way to stop the saffron party which has won elections in nearly a dozen states since 2014.
However, attempts to forge a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh fizzled out. The presidential election also saw fresh moves for opposition unity against the BJP but they too came a cropper. In July last, the JD-U returned to the NDA fold.
The BJP "Tiranga Yatra" started from Chaityabhoomi and concluded at the Kamgar Stadium in Central Mumbai, covering a distance of around 2.5 km.
At the venue, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis addressed a gathering and launched a scathing attack on non-BJP parties.
"Those who are holding 'Save the Constitution' rally are actually hypocrites. They see only holes in our Constitution which is the soul of the country and fundamental to our democratic existence," he said.
"While we are showing true respect to the Constitution drafted by Babasaheb Ambedkar, the opposition parties are fighting for their own existence," Fadnavis said.
Fadnavis said the opposition parties were enacting a "drama" in the name of the Constitution and trying to hide behind the statute book to mask their "failures".
"Whenever these people come to power, they take oath in the name of the Constitution and then loot the country. What they want to say? Is this so weak that it can be tweaked or broken? No. Not at all. Babasaheb Ambedkar has given us the world's most powerful Constitution," Fadnavis said.
Meanwhile, reacting to reports that the police were mulling filing a case against the organisers of the opposition's march for not taking permission for the event, NCP leader Jitendra Awhad said they had sought a nod for it.
"We had sought permission from the police to hold the march. There was no written response but it was orally communicated to us that we can go ahead with the march," said Awhad, one of the organisers of the programme.
"We are not scared of any cases. Everything went off smoothly. Probably the authorities are shocked at the overwhelming response the march got," he added.
Image: BJP's 'Tiranaga rally' in Mumbai, Photograph: @Dev_Fadnavis