In a show of unity, top leaders of 17 opposition parties on Friday attended a luncheon meet convened by Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Parliament House as part of efforts to find a consensus candidate for the presidential election and to chalk out prospects of a grand alliance.
The meet assumes significance as it brought together even arch political rivals such as SP-BSP and Thrinamool-CPM etc. The lunch was attended by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav along with his party leaders Naresh Aggarwal and Ramgopal Yadav.
Other leaders who attended included Kanimozhi (DMK), D. Raja (CPI), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) and Omar Abdullah (National Conference). Representatives of JD(S), Kerala Congress, AIUDF, IUML, RSP and JMM were also present. Senior Congress leaders, including party Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjuna Kharge, Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad attended the meet.
However, making cracks on a firm unity, Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar skipped the meet called by Sonia Gandhi, but is expected to fly in to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday.
On common presidential candidate, underlying that the candidate must uphold the Constitution and protect the country’s secular fabric, the Opposition decided to throw the ball back into the government’s court. In a statement issued after the meet, they said it is for the government to reach out to the Opposition to forge a consensus on an acceptable presidential candidate, failing which they would decide on their nominee.
“The normal practice is for the ruling party to build a consensus for the posts of president and Vice President but if there is no consensus candidate we will put up a candidate who will uphold the Constitution,” senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
Mamata Banerjee added: “Even when Atalji (former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP) was there, there were always talks with the Opposition. Anybody can talk to anybody.” She also said that no names were discussed at Mrs Gandhi's lunch party.
The united opposition also reportedly unanimously approved the idea of a “mahagatbandhan”, especially in UP, to take on the saffron camp.
Notably, despite Nitish Kumar, parties like the BJD, YSR Congress, AIADMK factions and AAP also continued to remain out of this umbrella.
The meet also discussed the performance of NDA government as it completes three years.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said the presidential elections were discussed, as was the performance of PM Modi's government in three years. “They are counting their achievements but Dalits, the weaker sections, religious minorities and poor farmers are in a bad state,” said Mayawati, who was recently trounced by the BJP in assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The meeting also called on the opposition “to strengthen floor coordination in Parliament to unitedly oppose the government's policies, that are imposing unprecedented burden on all sections of our people, farmers, working people, youth, SCs/STs, minorities, women and other sections of the society in various parts of the country.”