Sharad Pawar’s NCP skips Opposition meeting called by Sonia Gandhi, raises doubt over unity

The skipping of the opposition meet comes amid reports that two MLAs of the NCP in Gujarat may have voted for the BJP and not for Congress candidate Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha elections.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2017 23:14 IST
Srinand Jha and Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Srinand Jha and Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sharad Pawar,NCP,Sonia Gandhi
Former PM Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and NCP leader Sharad Pawar during an all-opposition party meeting in New Delhi, in June this year.(Arvind Yadav/HT File Photo)

Leaders of 16 opposition parties, led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, came into a huddle on Friday to evolve an “alternative narrative” to counter the BJP, but the absence of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) took the sting out of the event.

After the NCP’s reported action in voting against senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel in the recent elections to the Rajya Sabha, the party’s decision to skip the opposition conclave raised question marks over its willingness to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP at this stage.

Senior NCP leader Praful Patel said the party decided to boycott the meeting in protest against the “lies” spread by the Congress that its legislators had voted against Ahmed Patel in Gujarat.

“While we are not the B-team of Congress, we had voted in favour of Ahmed Patel in Gujarat. But the Congress has been spreading stories to the contrary. I had sought a clarification from Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad but no response came from him. Hence, we decided not to attend,” Patel said.

The NCP’s move has given rise to speculation that Pawar is cosying up to the BJP that has been facing troubles with one of its oldest alliance partners, the Shiv Sena. After Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar’s decision to dump the Grand Alliance in Bihar, any step by Pawar to align directly or indirectly with the BJP could be another setback to opposition unity.

Kumar and his party associates are visibly upset with Gandhi’s invitation to “rebel” leaders, including Sharad Yadav. While Yadav was absent as he is on a Bihar tour, Rajya Sabha member Ali Anwar Ansari was present, along with a host of leaders, including Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

Ansari, one of the first JD(U) leaders who opposed Kumar’s decision to dump the ‘Mahagathbandhan’, was later in the day suspended from the party.

The JD(U) also asked Yadav to clarify his anti-party statements. At a rally in Bihar on Friday, Yadav again attacked Kumar, saying his political somersault violated the mandate of the 2015 assembly elections.

Ahead of the meeting, Yechury told reporters that the opposition leaders needed to campaign on pro-people’s issues, such as the agrarian crisis, as a measure of building an effective strategy to take on the BJP.

Indications are that the Opposition camp will set up a “sub-committee” to formulate guidelines and strategies for a joint campaign to oppose policies and programmes of the Modi government.

Gandhi will form the coordination committee and take a call on its composition, said Azad.

Participants at the meeting included Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Aggarwal, Satish Chandra Misra of the Bahujan Samaj Party, and DMK’s T Siva.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, through his emissary Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav, invited all opposition leaders to attend his August 27 rally in Patna. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is likely to attend.

First Published: Aug 11, 2017 19:40 IST