Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Saturday invited leaders of 19 political parties to a meeting in Delhi on June 15 to discuss the upcoming presidential election, The Indian Express reported.

The presidential election is slated to be held on July 18 and votes will be counted on July 21. The president is elected by the members of the electoral college consisting of members of both houses of Parliament and elected members of the legislative assemblies of all states, including the union territories of Delhi and Puducherry.

Banerjee said that the election gives the “perfect opportunity for all progressive opposition parties” to discuss the future course of Indian politics. “At a time when our democracy is going through troubling times, I believe that a fruitful confluence of opposition voices is the need of the hour,” she said.

The West Bengal chief minister said that all progressive forces need to align with each other and “resist the divisive force” that is hurting India. She also said that India’s image was being maligned internationally in an apparent reference to criticism from Muslim-majority countries for suspended Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad.

Banerjee addressed the letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Pinarayi Vijayan.

Banerjee’s letter to Opposition leaders comes amid attempts by the Trinamool Congress to expand its national footprint after its win in the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections.

Later on Saturday, the Congress said that discussions among Opposition parties needed to be “open-minded” and that the time was ripe “to rise above our differences”, according to the Deccan Herald.

“Congress is of the opinion that the Nation needs a person as President, who can protect the Constitution, our institutions and citizenry from the ongoing onslaught by the ruling party. This is the need of the hour,” it said. “...We believe that INC [Indian National Congress] along with other political parties should be taking this discussion forward.”

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said that meetings on such topics are usually decided after consultating political parties. “Usually, the single largest party takes the initiative,” he said. “Such consultations [for a meeting] were going on when a unilateral letter was sent and publicised.”