New Delhi, Aug 10
Nearly four decades after Inder Kumar Gujral brought opposition stalwarts together to build an anti-Indira Gandhi platform in 1982, Congress veteran Kapil Sibal repeated history on Monday night by attempting a similar experiment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP.
It is the start of a conversation on building forces to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in 2022 and Lok Sabha in 2024, said most attendees who buried regional political rivalries to attend Sibal’s post birthday bash which soon became a political discussion zone.
Adversaries in Punjab—Shiromani Akali Dal and AAP came, as did Bengal rivals CPM-CPI and the Trinamool Congress.
Also present were leaders of parties that have not been attending formal opposition meetings convened by the Congress of late—among them BJD, TDP and YSRCP.
“Discussions centred on defeating the BJP in UP and in 2024. Everyone agreed on the need to work together on the anti BJP sentiment,” said SAD MP Naresh Gujral, whose father late PM IK Gujral had attempted the first coalition against then PM Indira Gandhi by hosting stalwarts like NT Rama Rao; Jyoti Basu; Ramakrishna Hegde, Chandrashekhar, Farooq Abdullah, Biju Patnaik and Harkishen Surjeet among others.
“That meeting was a significant attempt to forge an anti-Congress coalition. The assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi altered the political dynamics and the Congress won a huge sympathy vote but then we had the National Front and the United Front governments. Both the Left and the BJP supported VP Singh. Contradictions remained but a larger purpose became more prominent,” said Gujral who is learnt to have mentioned at Sibal’s dinner that the Congress needed to be “freed of the control of Gandhis”.
The meeting also discussed an outstanding proposal to field a common Lok Sabha candidate of the most dominant state party to defeat the BJP in 2024 – an idea the former finance minister P Chidambaram advocated before 2019 LS polls and the Congress Working Committee discussed but did not take forward.
A major outcome of yesterday’s meet was NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s take to have a Maharashtra like Maha Vikas Aghadi experiment in UP and back SP chief Akhilesh Yadav in state elections. It remains to be seen where that would leave the Congress with Priyanka Vadra in charge general secretary of UP.
Sibal for his part said the aim of his initiative was to “add to and not subtract from the strengths of the Congress.”
“This conversation will only strengthen the Congress since the idea is to come together against a government that is destroying the idea of India,” Sibal said.
It is unclear whether, like late IK Gujral’s initiative which was followed by meetings at Hyderabad (hosted by NTR), Srinagar (hosted by Farooq Abdullah) and Kolkata (hosted by Jyoti Basu), Sibal’s dinner meet would have spin offs. But that is what most leaders are hoping for.
The dinner that Sibal hosted yesterday was attended by politicians of varied hues namely—NCP’s Sharad Pawar, TMC’s Derek O Brien and Kalyan Banerjee, RJD’s Lalu Yadav, SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D Raja, RLD’s Jayant Chowdhry, BJD’s Pinaki Mishra, NC’s Omar Abdullah, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Akali Dal’s Naresh Gujral, DMK’s TK Elangovan, and leaders of TDP, YSRCP Congress’ P Chidambaram and members of G 23 (Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan among others).