After his meeting with Rahul Gandhi, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Tuesday said there can be no opposition front without the Congress, in a clear message to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee over her 'no United Progressive Alliance' taunt, even as another ally Nationalist Congress Party asserted it will make every effort to form a broad-based alliance that will also include the Congress.
As the NCP distanced itself from the Trinamool Congress supremo's jibes at the main opposition party, TMC sources said its national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee conveyed to all its MPs at its Parliamentary Party meeting that the party will not play second fiddle to anyone, including the Congress.
During the meeting, the TMC also discussed that while it will be one with the opposition, including the Congress on all issues in Parliament, but outside their strategies to fight the BJP would be separate.
"While we are in separate compartments, our destination will be the same. To remove the BJP," TMC MP Derek O'Brien said, days after Mamata Banerjee's statement in Mumbai questioning the very existence of the anti-BJP combine UPA and the Congress's leadership of the opposition group
Raut declined to share details about his meeting with Rahul Gandhi, but said they discussed about the status of the UPA.
The Shiv Sena, a former Bharatiya Janata Party ally, is not part of the UPA which was in power at the Centre between 2004 and 2014.
"There was a discussion about the UPA. It is not right to comment on it. I will talk to Uddhav ji (Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray) and then speak to you (the media)," Raut told reporters after meeting Gandhi.
When asked how the opposition parties are coming together to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Raut said efforts for this are on.
"I have told Rahul ji to take a lead in this and work towards it. There can be no (opposition) front without the Congress. What will two-three fronts of opposition do?" the Rajya Sabha MP said.
Raut said the Sena has already stated that no opposition front is possible without the Congress.
"I have not talked about any leader leading the front. I am only saying there should be only one front. If there are two-three fronts, then it cannot be an alternative. Only then can we present an alternative (to the BJP)," he stressed.
Raut's meeting with Gandhi comes days after Banerjee visited Mumbai and made comments questioning the very existence of the UPA.
During the visit, she also met Maharashtra minister Aaditya Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar.
The Congress and the NCP are constituents of the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra.
Banerjee's meeting with opposition leaders came amid strains in ties between the TMC and the Congress.
In the presence of Pawar last Wednesday, Banerjee had said there was no UPA and made a pitch for unifying opposition parties to take on the BJP at the Centre.
"What UPA? There is no UPA," she told reporters.
When asked how can the Congress and TMC be brought together when the relations between the two are strained, Raut said Pawar will play a role in this.
In his weekly column in Sena mouthpiece Saamana on Sunday, Raut claimed that Banerjee was contemplating an alliance excluding the Congress.
Briefing reporters on the deliberations of the NCP working committee, party spokesperson Nawab Malik said people of the country were 'fed up' with the BJP government at the Centre and were yearning for a change in 2024.
"We will make every effort to unite all non-BJP parties, including the Congress, to forge an alternative to the BJP. People want change in 2024.
"If an alternative alliance is formed, there will be change in 2024," Malik said, but remained silent on the leadership of such an alliance.
He said Pawar has been stressing on the need to unite all opposition parties to form a broad-based alternative to the BJP.
"The UPA does not have all parties. Non-UPA parties have more MPs than the UPA. If those people are not brought together, forming a large alternative will be difficult," Malik said.