M A I N   N E W S

Non-NDA leaders flock to Sonia’s lunch
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 5
At any given time and more so in this pre-election season, the guest list at a party hosted by any politician is seen as an indicator of political alignments and equations.

To that extent, the impressive line-up of virtually all political leaders outside the NDA fold at the lunch hosted by Congress President Sonia Gandhi today was a signal that all major Opposition parties will fight the coming Lok Sabha elections unitedly.

The leaders who attended the lunch on the concluding day of the 13th Lok Sabha did say all the politically correct things but there were niggling doubts whether today’s show of unity would actually manifest itself in the electoral fray.

“This was basically meant to send out a signal of opposition unity. But there is no denying that there are contradictions within this formation which remain unresolved,” commented a senior Opposition leader while another maintained that “at least the atmospherics were favourable.”

But as photo-ops go, the Congress President’s lunch for the floor leaders of non-NDA parties was an unqualified success. The strained relations between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) did not deter their representatives Amar Singh and Rashid Alvi, from accepting the invitation.

Opposition leaders were, however, quick to point out that the presence of these leaders did not necessarily mean that the two were willing to join the alternative secular alliance. While SP leader Mulayum Singh Yadav has been making friendly overtures to the Congress, he has also stated that his party will go it alone in the coming elections. Similarly, BSP chief has been her usual unpredictable self while choosing to keep her options open. Congress leaders, too, admit to the difficulty of carrying the SP and the BSP with them.

The other prominent invitees included former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and H.D. Deve Gowda, CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee, RJD President Laloo Prasad Yadav, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and the Congress party’s new-found ally, DMK, represented by Mr. T.R. Baalu. JMM’s Shibu Soren and Rashtirya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh did not come because of a communication gap admitted to by the Congress.

Emerging from the hour-long luncheon, the CPM leader described it as a “sumptuous meal” while promising that the results would be spicy. The otherwise voluble SP leader Amar Singh was unusually miserly with his remarks, merely stating that there was “good food and good atmosphere.” Mr. Rashid Alvi chose to avoid the Press. Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav was more optimistic. “The fact that we were all seated at one table indicates that we are together in defeating the BJP”, he remarked.

On her part, Ms Gandhi maintained she had called the Opposition leaders basically to thank them as they had all worked together for five years, adding that now that elections are coming, “we will work together.”

For the record, Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy said there was great bonhomie among those who attended the lunch and a clear demonstration of the unity of secular forces. He refused to comment on the possibility of the SP and BSP joining the alternative alliance, stating the lunch was not intended to discuss specifics. “But the informal discussions indicated a great determination by anti-BJP forces to work together before and after the Lok Sabha polls,” he added.

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