Eight, Teen Murti Lane, in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, was once the epicentre of many Third Front formation efforts. The house — where CPM’s Harkishan Singh Surjeet lived — came alive Monday night as top leaders of almost all Opposition and non-BJP parties came together for dinner at the invitation of its present occupant, Kapil Sibal.
On the table was just one agenda: the need for all Opposition parties to join hands to take on the BJP in 2024.
The guest list was impressive. From NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien and Kalyan Banerjee, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D Raja, Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh, RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, BJD’s Pinaki Misra, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Akali Dal’s Naresh Gujral and representatives of the TDP and the YSRCP.
Significantly, the BJD, TDP, YSRCP and the Shiromani Akali Dal are not part of the Opposition grouping which has taken shape in Parliament in the ongoing Monsoon Session.
The BSP was perhaps the only major non-BJP party which was absent at the dinner.
What is noteworthy is that almost all members of the Group of 23 — the 23 senior leaders in the Congress who wrote to party President Sonia Gandhi last year seeking sweeping changes in the party — were invited, and present at the dinner. Among them were Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari and Prithviraj Chavan.
The only two Congress leaders, who are not part of the G23, but were invited and came over to Sibal’s dinner were P Chidambaram and his son and Lok Sabha MP Karti Chidambaram. A Congress spokesperson did not respond to a message seeking the party’s comments on the dinner meeting.
Sources said almost all leaders who spoke at the dinner stressed on the need for opposition unity. The leaders stressed this conversation should begin now, and some even underscored it is an imperative to take on the BJP during elections.
But the meeting had its own contradictions. For example, Akali Dal will be fighting the Congress in Punjab and the Congress will field candidates in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party is the largest opposition party.
But, sources said, many leaders including some from the G23, pointed out that the opposition should not fight against each other in Uttar Pradesh, which they felt was a “milestone” on the path to 2024.
“All opposition parties should go to Uttar Pradesh and support Akhilesh Yadav. He is challenging the BJP. The Congress is not in a position to win there. We have to cooperate with the Samajwadi Party… that is how you win elections. The objective must be to defeat the BJP. We should not divide the votes. All the parties should support each other and back candidates from parties in a position to win,” a G23 leader told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
Interestingly, Akali Dal’s Gujral bluntly told the Congress leaders present that the “grand old party needs to free itself from the clutches of the family”. Abdullah also mentioned the continuing turmoil in the Congress. He said the Congress has to first get its act together. Pointing to the G 23 leaders, he said they have started an initiative and he and many others support it.
BJD’s Misra said the Congress is not a significant force in Odisha.
Interestingly, neither Pawar nor Akhilesh — both MPs — had attended the breakfast meeting hosted by Rahul Gandhi last week. Lalu remembered that 8, Teen Murti Lane, was once occupied by the master tactician who glued disparate regional parties to prop up coalition governments.