Updated: August 4, 2021 7:48:43 am
CONGRESS leader Rahul Gandhi Tuesday took his attempts to rally the Opposition together one step further by chairing a breakfast meeting with leaders and MPs of like-minded parties. In his first such interaction with the Opposition without Congress president Sonia Gandhi present, Rahul again underlined a newfound readiness to assume the lead in taking on the government as well as reaching out to other parties — two shortcomings he is often accused of.
On Tuesday, the carefully planned interaction over breakfast with around a hundred Opposition MPs from 15 parties including the Congress, at Rahul’s invitation, was followed by a surprise cycle rally to Parliament. Earlier, Rahul had attended two meetings of the Opposition where the parties agreed to coordinate their protests in Parliament over Pegasus and the farm laws.
In the evening, the Congress declared Tuesday as “a historic day”, saying “this is the trailer for 2024”. Rahul put out a video of his engagement with the Opposition leaders prepared by his team.
At the meeting, he said, “We represent 60% of the voice of this country… and we are treated as if we represent nobody. When the government shuts us up in Parliament, humiliates us… not just humiliating us as Members of Parliament… they are humiliating and shutting up the voice of the people of India and the majority of the voice of India.”
Seeking Opposition unity, Rahul added, “The more this voice unites… the more powerful this voice will become and more difficult it will become for the BJP to suppress it and the RSS to suppress it.”
Rahul’s outreach coincides with murmurs among Opposition ranks that secular forces should come together against the BJP, and not necessarily wait for the Congress to set its house in order and assume leadership. It comes days after Mamata Banerjee’s well-publicised Delhi visit and her minutely choreographed engagements with other leaders, including those from the Congress, and NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s meeting with a group of Opposition leaders at his residence.
But the larger message from Rahul’s meeting was to his critics, including in-house, who have often said he cannot fill mother Sonia Gandhi’s shoes when it comes to engaging with seasoned Opposition leaders; that he is reticent and unpredictable, and does not enjoy a rapport with them.
That may still hold true when it comes to Mayawati, Pawar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, or Banerjee for that matter (the AAP and BSP did not attend Tuesday’s meeting). But through the breakfast diplomacy and by attending Opposition talks in Parliament in the last few days, Rahul has indicated he is willing to engage with them. A top Congress leader said the breakfast meeting was the “brainchild” of Rahul, with Mallikarjun Kharge and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury deputed to send out the invites.
There is also a conscious effort to make the Pegasus spyware controversy an issue of concern for the entire Opposition — with Rahul pointedly saying it was not about his phone being tapped. This is a marked departure from when the Congress leader had made the Rafale deal a singular battle between him and Narendra Modi — even going so far as to chastise own party leaders for not taking up the matter.
Leaders from the Trinamool Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena, DMK, CPM, CPI, RJD, JMM, Samajwadi Party and National Conference, besides the IUML, RSP, KCM and Sharad Yadav’s LJD were present at the meeting, apart from the Congress’s Kharge, Chowdhury, KC Venugopal, Anand Sharma and P Chidambaram.
While the cycle rally to Parliament was a surprise for Opposition leaders, Rahul invited them to be a part of it too. The cycles were arranged by the Indian Youth Congress and parked at the Constitution Club when they arrived for breakfast. Rahul told them they could join the ride with him as a symbolic protest over the fuel price hike. “It is completely up to you,” he said.
At the meeting, the Congress leader said that while the parties present had different perspectives of the world, coming from varied states and regions, they could develop a “foundation of unity” within which they could have “discussions and arguments” and agree to disagree. “We should remember the foundation of unity and it is important that now we start to come up with the principles of this foundation,” Rahul said.
In a social media post later, he said, “When we stand together as a united opposition, no one can drown out our voice. I’m grateful to all the leaders who took the time to attend today’s meeting.”
At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “There was one single word uppermost in everybody’s lips and everybody’s mind, and that is unity, unity, and unity. … It is actually a historic day because this is the trailer for 2024. This shows you the new resolve, the new direction, the new momentum and the new determination and grit.”
The TMC was represented at the meeting by Saugata Roy and Kalyan Banerjee, Shiv Sena by Sanjay Raut and Priyanka Chaturvedi, RJD by Manoj Jha, DMK by Kanimozhi, SP by Ram Gopal Yadav, the CPM by Elamaran Kareem, and CPI by Binoy Viswam.