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The Glass House of Lalbagh in Bengaluru witnessed the Congress' vertical split in 1969. Image: iStock

Garden City Bengaluru has for decades played a key role in Opposition unity

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With the ambitious July 17-18 meeting of Opposition parties, the stage is set in Bengaluru to facilitate a grand conclave to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

The Bengaluru meet gains significance because of the expected attendance of former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Congress leaders feel her presence will make a difference as she is the only leader who can possibly ensure that bonhomie prevails and tricky issues are settled quickly.

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In the first Opposition conclave in Patna on June 23, it was decided to have the next gathering in Shimla. But the venue changed to Bengaluru owing to the heavy rain in Himachal Pradesh.

Political ground

According to veteran political leaders, Bengaluru is known for stitching Opposition unity. Now dubbed India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru was once called a pensioners’ paradise.

There is a significant shift in the narrative, however. Earlier, Opposition parties came together to defeat the once-dominant Congress. Now, the Congress is taking the lead in uniting opposition parties to defeat the BJP-led NDA in the coming parliamentary elections.

Congress in 1969

The Congress split for the first time in 1969 in the uneven race between then prime minister Indira Gandhi and a ‘syndicate’ of other party leaders which had lost the capacity of mass mobilisation. The Glass House of Lalbagh in the city witnessed the vertical split.

Recalling the events of the late 60s, senior politician MC Nanaiah observes: “Bengaluru has witnessed political transformation such as bifurcation, unification, polarization and decomposition.”

Similar was the Grand Alliance of 1971. It was a pre-poll grouping forged among various political parties, including the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner to today’s BJP, ahead of the general elections.

The alliance was led by K Kamaraj of Congress (O) against Indira Gandhi’s Congress faction. Leaders including Morarji Desai, SK Patil, Veerendra Patil, Ramakrishna Hegde and others took part in a meet held at Tulasi Thota in Majestic area, observes senior politician YSV Datta.

Emergency and Bengaluru

When Indira Gandhi declared an Emergency in the country, stalwarts like LK Advani, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were arrested and kept in a Bengaluru prison. Besides Advani and Vajpayee, socialist leaders such as SN Mishra and Madhu Dandavate were arrested in Bengaluru on June 26 where they arrived to attend a meeting of a Joint Parliamentary Committee dealing with the proposed law against defection.

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Bengaluru was a witness to the formation of the Janata Dal in 1988. It took birth following the merger of various formations, including the Lok Dal and Jan Morcha, on the birth anniversary of Jayaprakash Narayan. VP Singh, who later became the prime minister, united the factions. The Palace Grounds was a witness to the historical development.

VP Singh later went on to form a National Front of regional parties which took the legislative support of both the BJP on the one hand and the Left on the other when it formed a government.

Only Congress

The Congress leadership is now much sought after. Both Nitish Kumar and Sharad Pawar want the Congress to lead in stitching opposition unity. Though former prime minister HD Deve Gowda has not shown any desire to join the opposition block, he has said: “Only the Congress can lead alternative front.”

Once the Congress decided to take the lead in unity moves, it could not think of any other place but Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka where the party swept the polls two months ago.

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah will host a formal dinner on July 17. A total of 24 political parties have been invited to Bengaluru, much more than the number which made it to Patna.

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