Leaders of 20 opposition parties on Tuesday laid the groundwork for a broader strategy to tackle the ruling BJP in Parliament and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections at a dinner hosted at her residence by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Former chief ministers of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha will attend the dinner, along with former Bihar chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha chief Jitan Ram Manjhi, who recently quit the NDA and joined forces with Lalu Prasad's RJD.
Apart from Sonia, the Congress was represented by party president Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, and other senior leaders including AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and Randeep Singh Surjewala. Gandhi, who took over the reins of the party last December, will present the Congress vision document and the political road map for the party at the plenary session to be held from March 16 to 18, a source said.
Leaders of other parties like JD-S and Kerala Congress, Indian Union Muslim League, Revolutionary Socialist Party and RLD are also likely to attend. "Much political talk but much more important - tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection", Rahul Gandhi tweeted later.
The Telugu Desam Party, which has withdrawn its two ministers from the Modi government but continues to be a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), was not invited.
The BJD and the TRS rule Odisha and Telangana respectively.
But attendance at the dinner alone is unlikely to be an indicator of where the opposition parties stand ahead of the next general elections. "This is a part of that effort", said expelled Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav said when asked if there will be a front of opposition parties in 2019.
He said opposition leaders got together to discuss issues in the national interest, create bonhomie in the opposition and exchange views.
Sonia Gandhi had earlier called for opposition unity, saying parties should set aside their minor differences to come together in the larger interest of keeping the BJP out of power.
"When the government does not have interest to run Parliament, then it is natural that leaders of opposition parties, who are concerned about the problems faced by the people, will discuss the country's politics".
He accused the government of running away from debate in parliament on the Rs 12,600 crore PNB fraud case as also failing to tackle unemployment and problems of farmers.
Those conspicuous by their absence included Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal C M Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. "I told her it was because of her prior commitments", said TMC leader in the Lok Sabha Sudip Bandyopadhyay.