Congress president Sonia Gandhi will hold a virtual interaction of “like-minded” opposition parties on August 20. The meeting is likely to be attended by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, as per a senior Congress leader. Among others, a number of names have come to the fore, including NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Jharkand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, CPI general secretary D. Raja, and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. In the lead-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has a clear interest in serving as a rallying point for opposition parties, as per sources. The party views this as a win for the anti-BJP coalition, which has been fragmented since the BJP came back to power.
The opposition parties are trying to put up a united face in their fight against the BJP and the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. The unity was witnessed over several issues, including the Pegasus snooping row, and months-long farmers’ protests along the borders of Delhi. According to the Hindu, the Opposition was also united during the recent monsoon session of the Parliament where several leaders held meetings that were also attended by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi had also invited the Opposition leaders for a breakfast meeting at the Constitution Club in Delhi, while the Parliament session for the day was in progress.
Refraining from disclosing the agenda, senior party leader Sonia Gandhi said that the virtual meeting was likely to be followed by a physical gathering in September, either for a dinner or a lunch session.
The virtual interaction with the Opposition leaders, reportedly, comes after Kapil Sibal, one of 23 Congressmen who has repeatedly dissented from the Congress leadership, hosted an exclusive dinner for Sonia Gandhi to thank her for advocating reforms within the party.
According to a report by the Times of India, a dinner celebrating Sibal’s 73rd birthday on August 9, had a definite political undertone. The event was attended by Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, D. Raja, National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal’s Pinaki Misra, Derek O’Brien of the TMC, Tiruchi Siva of the DMK, and Naresh Gujral of the Akali Dal. Sibal’s meal was viewed as a challenge to the Gandhis’ leadership in political circles, with at least two members reportedly criticising the Congress leadership.
The Congress president’s interactions with Opposition leaders is expected to help the party’s efforts to keep the Opposition flock together. Amid promises to enhance their cohesiveness, the opposition bloc’s leadership remains unclear, despite a coalition of about 15 opposition parties. Many opposition leaders have consistently emphasised that the thorny issue should be left for a later stage, once coordination and the agenda are determined. For now, the Opposition is focused on developing an agenda and plan to present itself as a viable alternative to the BJP in the coming election.