New Delhi, Jan 13 (PTI) Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge on Saturday emerged as the consensus candidate for the post of chairperson of the opposition INDIA bloc, while Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's name was proposed for the convener's post, which the JD (U) leader has not accepted so far, according to sources.
Leaders of the INDIA bloc participated in the meeting via video conferencing on Saturday where they discussed various aspects of the alliance like seat-sharing and preparations for the Lok Sabha elections, due in April-May. Leaders of the Trinamool Congress, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and the Samajwadi Party did not attend the meeting.
According to the sources, a consensus emerged on Kharge's appointment as the chairperson of the bloc.
The leaders also decided to make JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar the convener of the alliance, the sources said.
"The CM (Kumar) has so far not given his approval to the proposal," JD(U) national general secretary Sanjay Kumar Jha told reporters outside the Bihar chief minister's residence in Patna, adding, "We will let you know after discussing the matter within the party".
However, no formal announcement was made till late evening by the INDIA alliance on the two appointments. It is learnt that the Congress president wants Nitish Kumar on board on the convenership before any formal announcement.
JDU General Secretary K C Tyagi later told PTI that Kumar did not give his approval to the post saying he was not an aspirant. He said Kumar stressed that issues pertaining to seat sharing and campaign strategy should be resolved within the alliance and committees should be formed in this regard.
Jha also said that the Bihar CM was in favour of a Congress leader becoming the chairperson.
Many see the alliance chairperson and convener having an upper hand in the race for the prime ministerial candidate, but leaders of various parties maintained that the PM candidate of the INDIA bloc would be decided only after the elections.
"There was consensus on the name of Mallikarjun Kharge as chairperson of the INDIA bloc," CPI general secretary D Raja, who attended the meeting, told PTI.
In a post on X, Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka D K Shivakumar said on Saturday evening that Kharge "has been named Chairperson of INDIA bloc, which shows dependability and trust in his leadership and vision".
"AICC President Shri Mallikarjun Kharge is not just Karnataka's pride, he is the country's pride, and one of the most experienced leaders we have right now. Today, he has been named Chairperson of the INDIA bloc, which shows dependability and trust in his leadership and vision.
"My best wishes to him, and I know that he will steer the INDIA bloc with immense commitment and dedication, like he has led Congress Party," Shivakumar said.
NCP president Sharad Pawar who attended the meeting told reporters that Nitish Kumar's name was suggested for the post of convener, but the JD(U) leader was of the view that a team of party chiefs should be formed and that there is no need to appoint a convenor.
Talking to reporters at Junnar in Pune district after attending the meeting, Pawar said there was no dispute among the INDIA bloc members over appointing its convener.
"There was a suggestion made by the bloc members (during the meeting) that Nitish Kumar be appointed as its convener, but the latter (Kumar) said that a team of party chiefs should be formed and that there is no need to appoint a convenor," he said.
At the same time, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president said, "There is no need to project one face to seek votes. We will select the leader after the elections and we are confident of providing an alternative. In 1977, Morarji Desai was not projected as the prime ministerial face by the opposition." "For Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, seat-sharing was discussed and we will announce once it is finalised," he said.
Sources added that talks are continuing between Congress chief Kharge and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee as also with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.
Sources said the alliance leaders would be meeting physically soon later in the month to chalk out further plans.
In the evening, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also met Kharge at his residence, where Rahul Gandhi was also present. AAP leader Raghav Chadha also attended the talks which related to seat-sharing between the two parties, the sources said.
Kharge later said in a post on X that the leaders of the INDIA Coordination Committee met online and had a fruitful discussion on the alliance.
"Everyone is happy that the seat-sharing talks are progressing in a positive way. We also discussed about joint programs in the coming days by INDIA Parties.
"I, along with Rahul Gandhi ji invited all INDIA Parties to join 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra' at their convenience and use the opportunity to raise the social, political and economic issues plaguing common people of this country," the Congress chief said.
Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra is beginning on Sunday from Imphal, Manipur.
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh, who addressed a press conference on the Yatra in Imphal, refused to answer queries on the appointments in the INDIA alliance.
Shiv Sena (UBT) president Uddhav Thackeray did not attend the virtual meeting citing a scheduled programme. "There shouldn't be any misunderstanding in this regard. I have expressed my inability to attend the meeting as I had to attend a scheduled programme which involved a lot of moving around," he said.
However, BJP chief J P Nadda took a swipe at the opposition bloc INDIA, saying it is a virtual alliance that is doing virtual meetings as a mere formality and that its leaders' two-point agenda is to save their families and properties.
Addressing a meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha to launch 'Namo Navmatdata Abhiyan' to connect with first-time voters, he said while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working for a developed India, empowering the youth, farmers and women, and removing poverty, the opposition stands for "removing Modi".
"A virtual alliance will do virtual meetings only. It will do so for the sake of formalities," he said.
Trinamool Congress on Saturday affirmed its commitment to the alliance but said that Congress should recognise its limitations in West Bengal and permit the party to spearhead the political battle in it.
"We are committed to the INDIA alliance and want to work together to defeat BJP. But we sincerely wish that the Congress leadership acknowledges the limitations and weaknesses of their Bengal unit and allows us (TMC) to lead the fight in the state," a TMC MP, familiar with the talks, said.
As the opposition alliance faces the challenging task of deciding on a seat-sharing arrangement for Lok Sabha polls, the Saturday meeting was the second attempt to hold a virtual meeting after the first one a few days ago did not materialise.
As many as 28 opposition parties have come together under the banner of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to take on the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections. PTI SKC RT