New Delhi: Representatives from 20 parties sat around Sonia Gandhi’s dinner table at her 10, Janpath residence in New Delhi on Tuesday as the UPA chairperson looked to forge a broader front against the BJP ahead of the 2019 elections.
The informal meet is expected to set the tone for opposition unity in the run up to the next elections and included all parties that have been attending consultations to adopt a common strategy in Parliament and outside against the BJP.
While there were a few notable omissions, particularly from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, there were a few surprise inclusions too, none more so than Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who confirmed his presence at the very last moment. Pawar, who has been jockeying to lead the federal front, has also planned a meet of the opposition camp later this month.
Also surprising was the presence of Satish Mishra from Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The BSP was not expected to send a representative as it has aligned with JD(S) for the Karnataka polls likely in April/March this year. But not only BSP, JD(S) too Kupender Reddy for the dinner.
The Congress fielded its biggest names as apart from Sonia, Rahul Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh, her trusted aide Ahmed Patel and leader of opposition Mallikarjun Kharge were in attendance. Ghulam Nabi Azad, AK Antony and Randeep Singh Surjewala were also present.
Bihar’s leader of opposition and former Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, who has recently emerged as a strong voice against the BJP, and sister Misa Bharti also attended the dinner. In the absence of Lalu Prasad, Tejashwi Yadav is the main player for Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) -- an ally of the Congress party and the lead constituent of the three-party Grand Alliance in Bihar.
Former state chief minister and chief of Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular Jitan Ram Manjhi, the third leg of the Bihar Grand Alliance, was also there.
Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, DMK's Kanimozhi and Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party were also present, and so was CPI(M)'s D Raja.
Others at the dinner included AIUDF's Badruddin Ajmal, National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, JMM’s Hemant Soren, RLD’s Ajit Singh and Hindustan Tribal Party’s Sharad Yadav.
The dinner took place in the backdrop of the stupendous wins by the BJP in Tripura and having managed to form alliance governments in Meghalaya, where Congress was the single largest party, and Nagaland. It has also ceded ground to other parties like the TMC in taking the fight to the BJP on issues like the banking scam. So, it again has to rely on Sonia to take the lead.
Surjewala, the Congress communications in charge, said the dinner was not organised for politics, but for amity and friendship among opposition parties.
He claimed at a time when the government was not allowing Parliament to function, it was obvious that leaders of various parties, who wanted to raise issues in national interest, would get together to discuss the current political situation.
"This dinner was not hosted for politics, but for amity and friendship. The intention is not political, but to hold discussions in family-like setting at a time when the nation is confronted with a number of issues and thousands of crores being taken out of the country," Surjewala told reporters after the dinner.
He said opposition leaders got together to discuss issues in national interest, create bonhomie in the opposition and exchange views. He also accused the government of running away from a debate on key issues such as banking frauds.