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Mamata, Kejriwal propose Kharge as PM face for I.N.D.I.A; some say Cong chief's name push to target Nitish

New Delhi: Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal pitched Mallikarjun Kharge as the Prime Ministerial face of the I.N.D.I.A bloc at a meeting of the here on Tuesday but the Congress president made it clear that it was important to “win first and then decide [such issues] later”.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata’s proposal for making Kharge the Convenor or even Prime Ministerial face of the bloc and her Delhi counterpart Kejriwal’s backing surprised leaders at the meeting, with some suspecting the timing as well as the motive, which they felt was to under-cut Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as well as trigger “turbulence” in the grouping.

The meeting also saw the bloc bringing seat sharing “as early as possible” on top of its agenda, with Trinamool Congress insisting December 31 as the deadline for the conclusion of the exercise. Some others argued for January 15 at the very latest, as parties need to start preparations before the announcement of Lok Sabha elections, possibly in March.

The Samajwadi Party also made it clear that if the Congress or any other party wants to bring the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) into I.N.D.I.A, they would not be part of the grouping— SP leader Ramgopal Yadav insisted that they could not do business with the Mayawati-led party.

Asked about the proposal to make him the PM face, Kharge told a press conference after the nearly three-hour-long meeting, “I already told them that we all need to work together. If we don’t have enough MPs, what is the point in talking about the Prime Minister? So we need to increase the numbers… Let’s win first. Let’s all first win together. Then we will decide.”

Sources said Kejriwal told the meeting that Congress should take the lead in taking the bloc forward while Mamata argued that the alliance would need a face. Mamata’s argument was that Kharge is a credible Dalit face and choosing him would send a “positive” message.

At the meeting, sources said, Kharge put a break to the discussion soon after Kejriwal backed Mamata’s suggestion. He said he is an ordinary worker of the Congress and he has joined politics with an aim to become something.

He told the leaders that it was not the appropriate time to discuss the issue of someone becoming the face of the alliance, and insisted that they should focus instead focus on devising a strategy to ensure the BJP’s defeat in the upcoming polls.

Though the leaders found themselves on different pages over the finer details, they agreed on starting the seat sharing process at the earliest, organising 8-10 public rallies in a month, and conducting protests across the country on December 22 against the suspension of 141 MPs in Parliament.

Kharge said the leaders of the alliance are on the same page and convinced about the need to work together to defeat the Narendra Modi-led BJP. He said they will start the seat sharing exercise earlier at the state level and disagreements there would be sorted out at the level of central leaders.

“There may be issues in states. We will have to solve it in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab,” he said referring to SP and AAP. Leaders like Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien, SP’s Yadav, Kejriwal and Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Uddhav Thackeray among others argued for immediate seat sharing talks.

(Published 19 December 2023, 13:52 IST)

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