M A I N   N E W S

Sonia plans dinner diplomacy
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 1
Just as she is busy putting together a coalition of secular forces in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is now planning to resort to dinner diplomacy to forge opposition unity.

Ms Gandhi is likely to invite all Opposition leaders for dinner before the dissolution of the Lok Sabha next week, party sources maintained. It was stated that the proposed dinner could be held between February 3 and 5, depending on the convenience of the Opposition leaders.

Since the Lok Sabha is to be dissolved on February 6, this last meeting of Opposition leaders is meant to be a farewell dinner and an effort to present a united front before the parties hit the campaign trail.

Those who have been contacted so far include Mr Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Mr Ram Vilas Paswan of Lok Janshakti Party and leaders of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), RPI and Muslim League. Although Left Front leaders are yet to be invited, it is expected that they will be among the invitees.

There is, however, uncertainty about the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Congress leaders are not sure if an invitation has been extended to both or just one of them.

Ms Gandhiís second meeting with BSP leader Mayawati at the latterís residence on Saturday night, however, makes it amply evident that the Congress prefers to go with the BSP and the talks on an alliance are making steady progress. There is, however, no official word on it.

The SP-BSP spat had also proved to be a major hurdle in floor coordination in the last Parliament session and had put the Congress in a spot. Since it is extending support to the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government in Uttar Pradesh, it could not ignore the SP. On the other hand, it was unable to extend an invitation to the BSP for fear of SPís objections.

Given this background, the guest list for Ms Gandhiís dinner will also provide inconclusive proof of the Congress partyís relations with the SP and the BSP. Although the Congress has not snapped its ties with the SP, its leaders have made it known that an electoral pact with the BSP would be more beneficial for the Congress. 

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