When West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was meeting her Delhi and Punjab counterparts, Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann, respectively, in Kolkata on Tuesday evening, a message to join the inauguration of the new Parliament building popped up on a Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader’s mobile phone, said people aware of developments.
The discussions between the three chief ministers briefly touched upon the May 28 event – when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the new Parliament building – and hours later, the TMC announced that it was pulling out of the ceremony, added the people cited above. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) followed suit after their two chief ministers landed in Mumbai.
A more difficult task, however, remained unaccomplished: A joint statement on skipping the inaugural event by key Opposition parties that would have both the AAP and the TMC – the two parties that are increasingly distancing themselves from the Congress – on board. A draft version of the statement, originally composed by a senior Congress strategist, was edited twice to focus on a joint approach and to make it suitable for both the AAP and TMC, said the people cited above. Finally, on Wednesday morning, 19 Opposition parties jointly issued the statement, alleging Modi had undermined the office of the President and distancing themselves from the ceremony.
The parties had to overcome another complication. On Monday, the Congress said it was still deliberating whether to back the AAP against an ordinance that effectively nullified a Supreme Court order upholding the primacy of Delhi’s elected government over bureaucracy, and handed control back to the Centre. In a tweet, Congress general secretary KC Venugopal said, “The Congress party has not taken any decision on the issue of the ordinance brought against the SC judgment on the powers of the government of NCT of Delhi with respect to appointment of officers. It will consult its state units & other like-minded parties on the same.”
He added, “The party believes in the rule of law and at the same time does not condone unnecessary confrontation, political witch-hunt and campaigns based on lies against political opponents by any political party.”
But because the new Parliament opening was seen as a major national issue, the AAP decided to join 18 other Opposition parties and sign the statement, albeit after some back-channel discussions with non-Congress opposition parties, said the people cited above. Even as the Congress remained non-committal on the ordinance, some other Opposition parties came out in support of the AAP.
A senior Congress leader said that when a bill is tabled in the monsoon session to replace the Delhi services ordinance, the Congress can criticise both the bill and the AAP government in Delhi.
“The statement reflects a full team game. It also creates a template for next one year where we can work together on important issues to find common ground. This is about teamwork and not one upmanship,” TMC’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien said.
A second Congress leader said that discussions with opposition parties for a joint statement were held on Tuesday. While the statement was being prepared, some non-Congress Opposition parties reached out to Telangana’s ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).
“The BRS leadership didn’t agree to be a part of the joint statement with the Congress, due to upcoming assembly elections in Telangana. We suggested that the BRS hold a press conference and announce its decision to boycott the event,” the second leader said, requesting anonymity.