Sonia Gandhi’s dinner diplomacy: Opposition turns up in strength

As many as 20 Opposition parties attended Sonia Gandhi’s dinner in Delhi on Tuesday night, being seen as Sonia’s attempt to weave Opposition unity ahead of the Congress’ upcoming plenary session

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Arch rivals from among Opposition parties put up a united face at the dinner hosted by UPA chairperson and former Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Delhi on Tuesday, with an eye on defeating the BJP-led NDA in the next Lok Sabha elections. As many as 20 parties attended the dinner.

Bitter political opponents in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress was represented by Sudip Bandyopadhyay and the CPI(M) by Mohd Salim and TK Rangarajan. Another pair of traditional rivals who have shown recent bonhomie for the Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha bypolls, the Samajwadi party represented by Ram Gopal Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party represented by Satish Mishra, both attended the dinner at Sonia Gandhi’s residence, 10, Janpath. Ajit Singh of UP’s Rashtriya Lok Dal was also present. Other Left parties at the dinner included CPI, represented by D Raja and Revolutionary Socialist Party represented by NK Premchandran.

Jharkhand’s main opposition leaders Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (JVM(P)) were also seen at the gathering.

Besides former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, AK Antony, Mallikarjun Kharge and Randeep Surjewala were also present.

NCP leader Sharad Pawar along with Tariq Anwar and daughter of the DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, M Kanimozhi was present, as was former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and JKNC leader Omar Abdullah, RJD leaders Misa Bharti and Tejashwi Yadav, Hindustani Awam Morcha leader Jitan Ram Manjhi and Indian Tribal Party leader Sharad Yadav. PK Kunhalikutty of IUML, Badruddin Ajmal of AIUDF, Jose K Mani of Kerala Congress and D Kupendra Reddy of the Janata Dal (Secular) also attended the dinner.

The dinner for opposition parties is being seen as Sonia Gandhi’s attempt to weave a grand unity among opposition parties ahead of the Congress' upcoming plenary session. Seventeen opposition parties had come together against the BJP-led NDA during the presidential and vice-presidential elections last year and Sonia Gandhi has been holding occasional meetings to nurture the bonding. Congress leaders said the group was expanding with Manjhi and Marandi coming to attend the dinner.

A Congress leader speaking on condition of anonymity said, “The dinner sends a message to allies that while Rahul is president of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi would actively be part of negotiating a possible alliance before the elections.''

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NCP President Sharad Pawar (left) speaks with Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge (centre) and Congress President Rahul Gandhi at Sonia Gandhi’s dinner at her residence 10 Janpath in Delhi

Rahul Gandhi says "much political talk" during dinner meeting

Congress President Rahul Gandhi later said there was "much political talk" during the dinner meeting. "Fabulous dinner tonight, hosted by UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi Ji. An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally. Much political talk but much more important - tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection," Gandhi said in a tweet.

Some leaders later said that the dinner was part of effort to forge a front against the BJP in the Lok Sabha battle next year and regional rivals were coming together.

"The effort is on. The effort is going on. This is a part of that effort," said expelled Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav said when asked if there will be a front of opposition parties in 2019.

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said the the effort is on to get the opposition united. "You can see NDA allies are also angry. Chandrababu Naidu is angry, Akalis are also angry. They are losing faith in NDA's leadership. TRS is not happy. Laluji's (RJD supremo Lalu Prasad) effort to have a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) at the national level, this was a positive move towards that," said Tejashwi, and accused the BJP-led government of political vendetta against its opponents.

The meeting of Opposition leaders also took place against the backdrop of stand off with the government in Parliament that has seen continuous disruptions since the start of second half of budget session on March 5.

Congress Communications incharge Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters that the leaders discussed ways to fix accountability of the Narendra Modi government in Parliament. He accused the government of running away from debate in parliament on the ₹12,600 crore PNB fraud case as also failing to tackle unemployment and problems of farmers.

"When the government does not have interest to run Parliament, then it is natural that leaders of opposition parties, who are concerned about the problems faced by the people, will discuss the country's politics. There will be unofficial discussion on how to fix accountability of the government," he said.

This dinner is also significant in the context of moves by regional parties like the Telanagana Rashtra Samiti and the Telugu Desam Party which have attacked BJP in the recent past and are said to be jockeying for a third front of parties against the BJP and Congress.

Contrary to some initial reports, AAP, TRS and YSR Congress were not invited for the dinner.

With IANS inputs.

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Published: 13 Mar 2018, 8:58 PM