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. Apart from Sonia, there was Rahul Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony and Randeep Singh Surjewala from the Congress.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, "Dinner hosted by Sonia ji for Opposition parties should not be seen from the prism of politics, it was for friendship and better dialogue between parties".
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said Gandhi's dinner politics will be only about dinner as the BJP, under Modi, remains a victor with ruling NDA attracting more allies.
Former chief ministers of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha will attend the dinner, along with former Bihar chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha chief Jitan Ram Manjhi, who recently quit the NDA and joined forces with Lalu Prasad's RJD. "An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally", Rahul Gandhi tweeted after the dinner.
TRS chief and Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao also spoke enthusiastically about a federal front.
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While all the parties invited for dinner did send their representatives, the line-up was far from daunting for the ruling BJP as political heavyweights from the Opposition were starkly missing. "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. 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.
He said opposition leaders got together to discuss issues in the national interest, create bonhomie in the opposition and exchange views.
Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal appeared to agree, contrasting the incremental improvement in the opposition ranks with the Telugu Desam Party pulling out its ministers from PM Narendra Modi's team. He also accused the Government of running away from a debate on key issues such as banking frauds.
Seventeen opposition parties had come together against the BJP-led NDA during the presidential and vice-presidential elections a year ago and Sonia Gandhi has been holding occasional meetings to nurture the bonding.
There had been some confusion after Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee took the initiative of contacting anti-Congress parties like the TRS. Sudip Bandyopadhyay of TMC, Kanimozhi of DMK, and Tejasvi Yadav of RJD.
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