Dinner boost to Opposition unity

Dinner boost to Opposition unity

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.

The leaders, who finally made it to the high-table were Ram Gopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Badruddin Ajmal (AIUDF), Sharad Pawar (NCP), Tejashwi Yadav, Misa Bharti (RJD), Omar Abdullah (National Conference), Hemant Soren (JMM), Ajit Singh (RLD), D Raja (CPI), Mohd Salim (CPIM), Kanimozhi (DMK), Kutti (IUML), Satish Chandra Mishra (BSP), Babulal Marandi (JVM), Ramachandran (RSP), Sharad Yadav (Bharatiya Tribal Party), Sudip Bandyopadhyay (TMC), Jitan Ram Majhi (Hindustan Awam Morcha), Dr Kupender Reddy (JDS), a member of Kerala Congress. TMC's Derek O'Brien, who had initially planned to come, took the evening off to celebrate his birthday.

Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, and senior Congress leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony, and Randeep Singh Surjewala were also present at the dinner. The Biju Janata Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party led by Delgi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul 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. He had earlier said, "Will not be able to attend the dinner as the Assembly session in Tamil Nadu was beginning from March 15". "Much political talk but much more important - tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection", Rahul Gandhi tweeted later. An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally.

The government has no plans to curtail the ongoing Budget Session, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said here on Tuesday even as he launched a strident attack on the Congress for disruptions in both the Houses of Parliament.

Sonia Gandhi has called for opposition unity and said parties should set aside their minor differences to get together in the larger interest of keeping the BJP out of power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

But attendance at the dinner alone is unlikely to be an indicator of where the opposition parties stand ahead of the next general elections.

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

"The opposition wants to ensure accountability of the government which is running away from the debate in the Parliament", he added.

There had been some confusion after Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee took the initiative of contacting anti-Congress parties like the TRS.

However, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala played down the motive behind holding the dinner.

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