Grand alliance in the offing? 20 Opposition parties’ leaders attend dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi

Congress says event held for 'amity and friendship'

NEW DELHI, March 14, 2018: With 2019 elections in mind and stopping Modi-Shah poll juggernaut, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi hosted a dinner at her residence 10, Janpath on Tuesday night which saw participation of leaders of 20 opposition parties. The dinner is being seen as an attempt to explore the possibility of sewing a broader unity among secular parties ahead of the 2019 general elections, an event the Congress said was meant to promote “amity and friendship”.

Media reports said leaders of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress, DMK and Left parties attended the dinner among others.

Prominent leaders present at the dinner were NCP’s Sharad Pawar, SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav, BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra and former chief ministers Omar Abdullah (Jammu and Kashmir), Babulal Marandi, Hemant Soren (Jharkhand) and Jitan Ram Manjhi (Bihar), besides JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav and Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD) Ajit Singh.

The RJD was represented by two siblings of party chief Lalu Prasad — former deputy chief minister of Bihar Tejashwi Yadav and Misa Bharti, a Rajya Sabha member.

The others present at the dinner included TMC’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay, CPI-M’s D Raja and Mohammad Salim, DMK’s Kanimozhi, AIUDF’s Baddruddin Ajmal and leaders of Kerala Congress, besides Kupender Reddy of the JD-S.

Sonia Gandhi, Congress president 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.

“Fabulous dinner tonight, hosted by UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi Ji. An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted after the dinner.

“Much political talk but much more important – tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection,” he wrote, and tagged a group photo of the attendees.

Media reports said leaders of Andhra Pradesh’s ruling Telugu Desam Party, which recently pulled out its ministers in the Modi government but continues to be a constituent of the NDA, the BJD, and the TRS were not invited.

The BJD and the TRS rule Odisha and Telangana respectively.

Media reports said Tejashwi Yadav and Sharad Yadav later told reporters it was the first step towards a comprehensive alliance of the 2019 elections.

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.

“While the NDA was “breaking apart”, opposition parties were getting together, he said, apparently hinting at TDP pulling out of the Modi government.

At the dinner the leaders discussed the possibility of opposition parties getting together on one platform to defeat the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, media reports said.

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.

Congress communications incharge Randeep Surjewala said the dinner was not organised for politics, but for ‘amity and friendship’ among opposition parties, the reports said.

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 of rupees being taken out of the country,” Surjewala later told mediapersons.

He said opposition leaders got together to discuss issues in the national interest, create bonhomie in the opposition and exchange views.

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

Left and TMC leaders who were present said it was certainly a “political dinner without political talks”.