20 Oppn parties attend Sonia’s dinner, table set for 2019
NEW DELHI: Leaders of 20 opposition parties on Tuesday laid the groundwork for a broader strategy to tackle the ruling BJP in Parliament and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections at a dinner hosted at her residence by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Billed as a show of strength by the Opposition, the dinner was attended by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and his party colleague Tariq Anwar, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Tejashwi Yadav and his sister Misa Bharti from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Kanimozhi of the DMK, Rashtriya Lok Dal president Ajit Singh and Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, which has skipped Opposition meetings in the past, was represented by senior leader Satish Chandra Misra. The new entrants to the Opposition grouping were Hindustan Awami Morcha chief Jiten Ram Manjhi and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) head Babulal Marandi.
Sharad Yadav of the Bharatiya Tribal Party, Mohammad Salim of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), D Raja of the Communist Party of India, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Hemant Soren, All India United Democratic Front’s Badruddin Ajmal, Kerala Congress (Mani) leader Jose K Mani, D Kupendra Reddy from the Janata Dal (Secular), NK Premachandran of Revolutionary Socialist Party and Indian Union Muslim League’s PK Kunhalikutty were also in attendance.
Apart from Sonia, the Congress was represented by party president Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, and other senior leaders including AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and Randeep Singh Surjewala.
The Telugu Desam Party, which has withdrawn its two ministers from the Modi government but continues to be a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), was not invited. The Biju Janata Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party led by Delgi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal , the All India Majlis-eIttehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi who was once a part of the UPA, the AIADMK, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the YSR Congress Party and the Shiv Sena were also not invited to the dinner. “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,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted later.
Congress chief spokesperson Surjewala, however, said the dinner was not organised for politics but for amity and friendship among Opposition parties. “The intention is not political, but to hold discussions in a family-like setting at a time when the nation is confronted with a number of issues, including the farmers’ unrest,” he said after the dinner.
Surjewala said at a time when the Centre was not allowing Parliament to function, it was obvious that leaders of various parties would get together to discuss the current political situation. Sonia has consistently been pushing for broader Opposition unity, urging political parties to set aside their local differences and get together in the larger national interest to keep the BJP out of power in 2019.
CPI(M)’s Mohammad Salim said more comprehensive meetings will soon follow. Pawar has called another meeting of opposition parties later this month.
Earlier in the day, the BJP hit out at the Congress. “It seems Sonia and Rahul Gandhi don’t believe in democracy. They speak outside on democracy but don’t practise it in Parliament. Congress doesn’t have democracy in its genes,” parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi with leaders of 20 opposition parties during a dinner at Janpath in New Delhi on Tuesday.