The steam over Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar’s Tuesday meeting with opposition leaders to take on the BJP in the next elections fizzled out soon after. Following a two-hour-long session, Pawar tweeted that he had a detailed discussion on “future policies, our role in the Lok Sabha elections and current national issues”.
Those present at the meeting included representatives of the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. Pawar’s MP daughter Supriya Sule and Sunil Tatkare also attended. The Congress was, however, missing. Though party leaders and Supreme Court lawyers Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha were invited, they are among the 23 party rebels seeking leadership change within the Congress. However, both had refused to attend. Asked about the meeting, Rahul Gandhi said he is not going to be distracted by what is going on in politics and wants to bring focus on Covid-19.
It was later clarified that the NCP itself didn’t host the leaders, as invitations went out from the Rashtra Manch, a forum created by Yashwant Sinha in 2018. Pawar only agreed to host the meeting at his residence on the request of Sinha, who is now a vice-president of the Trinamool Congress. The NCP leader clarified that the meeting as such is “highly overrated and speculative”.
Some of the NCP leaders had reportedly approached Pawar for a clarification as a message had gone out as if he is trying to float a Third Front, minus the Congress, which may even adversely affect the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, in which both the Congress and the NCP are partners.
Party leaders said Pawar himself was disturbed that a wrong message may impair the unity of the opposition parties as he asked both Rajya Sabha MP Praful Patel Patel and his daughter Supriya to clarify the correct position to Rahul Gandhi that there is no move to create a front minus the Congress against Prime Minister Modi. Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who had met Pawar on Monday, their second meeting in 10 days, opted not to attend the Rashtra Manch meeting after learning that the Congress, the main opposition party, has been kept out. He had said that any exercise without the Congress was futile. Sinha stressed that the media created a false narrative by claiming that those to be present in the meeting would include senior leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, M K Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray, Tejaswi Yadav, Sitaram Yechuri and D Raja. None of them even had any plan to be in Delhi on Tuesday, surprising them as to how their names were put in circulation. Those who attended the meeting from eight political parties were: Omar Abdullah of J&K National Conference, Majid Memon and Vandana Chavan from NCP, RLD’s Jayant Choudhary, Samajwadi Party’s Ghanshyam Tiwari, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Sushil Gupta, Binoy Viswam from the CPI and Nilotpal Basu from CPM. Former diplomat and former Rajya Sabha JD (U) MP Pawan Verma also came to the meeting. Others at the gathering included retired Justice AP Shah, former ambassador KC Singh and lyricist Javed Akhtar.