New Delhi: Congress leader Kapil Sibal hosted the who’s who of the opposition at his residence Monday night as part of his 73rd birthday celebration.
However, the gathering was more than a mere dinner as several senior leaders discussed the need to strengthen the parties, especially the Congress, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election and put up a “united fight” against the BJP.
According to sources privy to what happened at the meeting, Sibal, whose birthday was on 8 August, explained how there is a need for opposition parties to “work together” if there is any chance of defeating the BJP and the “institutional capture being witnessed”.
Among those present were Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Tiruchi Siva, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, Biju Janata Dal’s Pinaki Misra.
Former NDA ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, also had representation at this meeting through leader Naresh Gujral.
Notably, many members of the ’G-23’ — a group of Congress leaders who wrote to party president Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 demanding a full time and effective leadership — were also present. They included Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor and Vivek Tankha. Former finance minister P. Chidambaram, who has also been demanding organisational changes within the Congress, was present too.
Congress leaders Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were not at the dinner, however, the meeting was in line with the idea of opposition unity that Rahul has been pushing for these past few weeks during the ongoing parliament monsoon session.
Delhi: NCP chief Sharad Pawar, TMC MP Derek O'Brien, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, DMK's Tiruchi Siva, RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Congress MPs Shashi Tharoor & Anand Sharma & other Opposition leaders arrive at Kapil Sibal's residence for a meeting pic.twitter.com/RgHsMXDBmj
— ANI (@ANI) August 9, 2021
‘Congress must work out issues for unity to work’
All the opposition leaders agreed on the need for a united front to fight the ruling BJP, but the conversation largely centred around reviving the Congress, sources told ThePrint.
At the meeting, Abdullah said that the Congress’ failures notwithstanding, it is the only national level party that can give BJP a fight, so it “needs to work out its issues,” one of the sources quoted him as saying.
At this point, O’Brien cited Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee’s recent victory in West Bengal assembly polls as an example of how “it isn’t impossible to defeat the BJP”. The BJP had made concerted efforts over months to gain political ground in West Bengal ahead of the election.
Agreeing Raut said it was possible to defeat the BJP at a national level, “but only if Congress solves its organisational issues,” said another source.
Sibal agreed with all the suggestions and said that the letter written by Congress leaders to Gandhi last year was “a step in that direction”. However, no leader went into detail about the reaction to the letter or the progress within the party a year on.
Leaders agreed that the 2022 UP assembly election would be the first test of the opposition bringing its house in order.
‘Keep differences aside, look at Maharashtra’
Apart from West Bengal, the leaders also cited Maharashtra as an example, noting how the ruling alliance between the Congress, Shiv Sena and the NCP exemplifies “what can happen when parties keep their differences aside for the larger good”.
NCP chief Pawar hailed the Maharashtra alliance and asked for other parties to introspect and see if similar alliances can be forged in other states to keep the BJP out.
Shiv Sena’s Raut reiterated Pawar’s sentiment.
Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and D. Raja of the Communist Party of India were also present at the meeting.
Yechury pointed out that Sibal’s residence at 8, Teen Murti Lane was earlier the residence of former CPM leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who was known for bringing various opposition parties together ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
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