Politics is almost always on the iftar menu in the capital and so it was at Sonia Gandhi’s this evening — sending a mixed signal to the BJP ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.
Her guest list showed that Opposition unity may be largely intact but there are some chinks in that as well with regional rivals hesitant to be seen together.
So the Left parties were missing at the dinner where a representative of Mamata Banerjee was present. Sitting next to Gandhi on the dinner table was Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien. Sources said CPM politburo member Mohammed Salim was to attend but the party had a change of heart at the last minute.
Clearly, the discomfiture of being seen with the Trinamool and a reluctance to let the Congress flex its muscle and turn Parliament into a BJP vs Congress affair were said to be the reasons behind the Left’s absence. So Salim flew out of Delhi as the iftar was in progress. With the CPM deciding to skip, the CPI, too, followed suit. Gandhi had invited its Rajya Sabha leader D Raja.
The Samajwadi Party skipped the dinner although its senior leader Ram Gopal Yadav, sources said, had confirmed his presence. He was to be seated on Gandhi’s table. BSP veteran Satish Chandra Mishra was present and sat next to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
DMK had deputed M Karunanidhi’s daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi. DMK had no qualms as the AIADMK was not invited. She sat next to Rahul Gandhi who, interestingly, asked her about AIADMK and its perceived closeness with the BJP. He wanted to know whether there is a possibility of a BJP-AIADMK alliance for next year’s Assembly elections.
Unlike last year, Gandhi’s iftar today saw the presence of a large spectrum of Opposition leaders. And the cynosure of all eyes was, of course, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. In a skull cap and scarf, he sat next to Sonia. JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, too, was on this high table. RJD chief Lalu Prasad was absent as he was hosting his own iftar in Patna.
Kunwar Danish Ali represented the JD(S) while Lalu was represented by Prem Chand Gupta.
The Congress, JD(U) and RJD plan to contest the Assembly elections in Bihar together.
From NCP supremo Sharad Pawar to National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the UPA constituents were present. RLD’S Ajit Singh was absent.
Was the presence of Opposition leaders an indication of what is in store for the monsoon session? Rahul, without mincing words, said the Opposition has always been “coordinating” and pointing towards others seated at the dinner table said “this is also an example of the coordination.”
Amid the war of words between the Congress and the BJP over the outcome of the Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif talks, Pakistan High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit sitting next to Anand Sharma. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said talks with Pakistan are good but pointed out there are conflicting reports about the outcome.