Mission 2019: 20 Opposition parties, Sonia Gandhi talk unity over dinner

Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Parliament during second phase of budget session in New Delhi

Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Parliament during second phase of budget session in New Delhi

In an attempt to forge Opposition unity, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday hosted leaders from 20 political parties, including the Congress, for dinner at her residence.

Sonia Gandhi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony and Randeep Surjewala were among the Congress leaders present.

"This dinner hosted by Mrs Sonia Gandhi for opposition parties should not be seen from the prism of politics".

"At a time when the government is trying to create walls", he said, "we are making way to travel together by forging friendships and bringing harmony".

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Billed as a show of strength by the Opposition, the dinner was attended by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and his party colleague Tariq Anwar, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Tejashwi Yadav and his sister Misa Bharti from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Kanimozhi of the DMK, Rashtriya Lok Dal president Ajit Singh and Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.

According to reports, the leaders of Andhra Pradesh's ruling party Telugu Desam which are still a part of NDA, BJD (ruling party of Odisha), and the TRS (ruling party of Telangana) are not been invited.

Lalu's son and Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav is also likely to attend the dinner but there was no confirmation. "Fabulous dinner tonight hosted by UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi Ji".

Outside, Sharad Yadav spoke of the dinner as one step closer to lining up the opposition on the same side at the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. "Much political talk but much more important - tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection". An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally. Though the Congress termed the dinner as a "non-political" event, it was loaded with political significance as it may set the tone for unity among secular parties to take on the BJP-led NDA in the 2019 general elections.

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Seventeen opposition parties had come together against the BJP-led NDA during the presidential and vice-presidential elections a year ago and Sonia Gandhi has been holding occasional meetings to nurture the bonding.

The government has no plans to curtail the ongoing Budget Session, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said here on Tuesday even as he launched a strident attack on the Congress for disruptions in both the Houses of Parliament.

He also accused the government of running away from debate on key issues such as banking frauds.

Though the Congress insisted the event was "apolitical" and merely "informal" with "friends", Sonia, who had been anxious with recent reports of fissures in the Opposition, chose to take the opportunity to iron out rough edges.

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