Lunch by Sonia gets arch rivals together

Will fight Prez poll if Govt fails to come up with consensus candidate, says Oppn Mamata hints at formation of panel if needed
Report by: 
26 May 2017

Political arch-rivals today put up a united face on the third anniversary of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, as leaders of 17 parties attended a lunch hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Bitter contenders in Uttar Pradesh -- the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party -- and hostile rivals in West Bengal -- the Trinamool Congress and the Left -- were all present at the lunch at the Parliament House library. Apart from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, BSP's Mayawati and SP's Akhilesh Yadav, the lunch was attended by NCP leader Sharad Pawar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and DMK's Kanimozhi. Left leaders Sitaram Yechury, S Sudhakar Reddy, D Raja and P Karunakaran were also present, as were Sharad Yadav and K C Tyagi of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U). Besides representatives of smaller regional parties, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference also attended the event.

Apart from Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the Congress was represented by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad. The Congress, the main party in the Opposition, has planned a grand show of unity at the luncheon, where deliberations on a consensus Presidential candidate will also take place. The leaders will explore the possibility of fielding a joint candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. The Congress has been advocating unity among non-NDA parties ahead of the Presidential election which, it believes, can be taken forward to the upcoming assembly polls in states such as Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, besides the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

Several names have been doing the rounds as probable candidates. Among them are former West Bengal Governor and Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former JD-U president Yadav, Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar and NCP chief Pawar. The NCP leader, however, has ruled himself out of the race. Bihar chief minister Kumar has also mooted a second term for incumbent Pranab Mukherjee and suggested that the ruling BJP try and build consensus on him. Kumar missed today's lunch because of a prior engagement. Leaders of 17 parties attended the lunch. Among the many present were SP's Naresh Aggarwal and Ram Gopal Yadav, AIUDF's Badruddin Ajmal, JMM's Sanjiv Kumar, JD-S' C S Puttaraju and RSP's N K Premachandran.

After the lunch, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said if Opposition parties could not agree on a unanimous candidate for the upcoming presidential election, a "small committee" could be formed to help them select a suitable nominee. Mamata said no names were discussed at the lunch-cum-meeting at the Parliament House Library.  Mamata told newspersons that the parties present criticised the "horrible" situation in Kashmir, where security forces were battling civilians, and in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur district, which has been witnessing caste clashes since April. A united Opposition today gave an indication that if the ruling dispensation fails to come up with a consensus candidate with secular credentials for the Presidential poll, it will field someone who shall "steadfastly defend" the country's Constitutional values.

After the meeting, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sharad Yadav read out a joint statement stating that in view of the Presidential election, the normal practice has been that the ruling party takes the initiative to build a consensus on the names of candidates for these important offices. "This has not happened so far. If acceptable consensual candidates do not emerge, then we (opposition parties) shall decide to field such persons who shall steadfastly defend the Constitutional values of our Republic," the statement said. Yadav said the Opposition appeals to the BJP to take the lead and come up with a consensus candidate for the president and the vice president's post, as per traditions, but a consensus between the ruling and opposition sides appears remote. "We want that someone who protects the Constitution holds this post," he said.
Yadav also said that this Opposition unity will continue till the next Lok Sabha elections and "take the challenge" together. He said the leaders of all parties would also work together in raising issues both outside and inside Parliament. The Opposition statement attacked the ruling dispensation expressing their resolve to strengthen floor coordination in Parliament and "to unitedly oppose this government's policies, that are imposing unprecedented burden on all sections of our people, farmers, working people, youth, SC/STs, minorities, women and other weaker sections of the society". "The Opposition parties also expressed concern over the prevailing grave situation in Jammu and Kashmir," the statement also said.