Sonia’s Dinner With 20 Parties - Step Towards 2019 Grand Alliance?

Leaders of 20 opposition parties got together on Tuesday, 13 March at a dinner hosted by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi to explore the possibility of forging a broader unity among opposition parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, an event the Congress said was meant to promote "amity and friendship".

Leaders of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Left parties attended the dinner among others.

Also Read: Sonia Hosts Dinner With Oppn Leaders, Cong Dubs it ‘Non-Political’

"Fabulous dinner tonight, hosted by UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi Ji. An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally," Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted after the dinner at Gandhi family's 10, Janpath residence.

Those in Attendance

Among the prominent leaders in attendance were NCP's Sharad Pawar, SP's Ram Gopal Yadav and BSP's Satish Chandra Mishra, JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav and RLD's Ajit Singh. Former chief ministers Omar Abdullah (National Conference), Babulal Marandi (JVMP), Hemant Soren (JMM) and Jitan Ram Manjhi (HAM).

The RJD was represented by party chief Lalu Prasad's son and daughter -- former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav and Rajya Sabha MP Misa Bharti.

From left: SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav, BSP leader Satish Mishra, JDU’s Sharad Yadav, NCP leader Sharad Pawar. 

The others present included TMC's Sudip Bandyopadhyay, CPI's D Raja and CPI(M)‘s Mohammad Salim, DMK's Kanimozhi, AIUDF's Baddrauddin Ajmal and leaders of Kerala Congress, besides Kupender Reddy of the JD-S.

Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony and Randeep Surjewala were among the Congress leaders present.

IUML MP from Malapuram PK Kunhalikutty, Revolutionary Socialist Party leader NK Premachandran, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Misa Bharti,  Kanimozhi and other leaders at Sonia Gandhi’s residence. 

Leaders of Andhra Pradesh's ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which recently pulled out its ministers in the Modi government but continues to be a constituent of the NDA, the BJD (Biju Janata Dal), and the TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) were not invited. The BJD and the TRS rule Odisha and Telangana respectively.

Also Read: Rethinking Opposition: What Congress & Others Must Do Before 2019

2019 Grand Alliance? ‘The Effort Is On’

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

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav remarked,

"You can also 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." - Tejaswi Yadav, RJD

Asked if there was a consensus on Rahul Gandhi's leadership of the probable opposition alliance, Tejashwi said, "The time has not yet come to decide on the prime ministerial candidate."

Sonia Gandhi had earlier called for opposition unity, saying parties should set aside their minor differences to come together in the larger interest of keeping the BJP out of power.

Also Read: SP-BSP Alliance a Sign That 2019 Will be a ‘BJP vs the Rest’ War

“Political Dinner Without Political Talks”

Congress communications incharge Randeep Surjewala 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.

Surjewala also accused the government of running away from debates on key issues such as banking frauds.

Though the Congress termed the dinner as a "non-political” event, it was loaded with political significance as it may set the tone for unity among the opposition parties to take on the BJP-led NDA in the 2019 general elections.

A Left leader told PTI, “It was a political dinner. But there were no political talks. It was a show of strength by the non-BJP parties.”

TMC leader in the Lok Sabha Sudip Bandyopadhyay said, “Sonia Gandhi asked me why Mamata Banerjee didn't come. I told her it was because of her prior commitments."

(With inputs from PTI, IANS)

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