Sonia Gandhi to convene opposition meet today in bid to build anti-BJP front

New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi, former Congress party president, has convened a meeting of all opposition parties on Thursday to attempt to forge an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance.

It comes two days after a similar meeting convened and chaired by Sharad Pawar, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), suggesting that there is no consensus on the leadership of a likely alliance of opposition parties.

The political development is interesting as both the Congress and NCP are trying to bring together opposition parties under one umbrella. In Monday’s meeting, senior Congress leaders are said to have stressed that Sonia Gandhi has been chairing such opposition meetings and continues to lead an anti-BJP alliance.

“The Congress party has to accommodate senior allies who have stood by them for long. Sharad Pawar is one of the senior most opposition leaders with good equations with almost all political parties. Congress leaders should understand and try to benefit from Pawar’s experience,” a senior NCP functionary said requesting anonymity.

Congress on its part is adopting the policy of “wait and watch” to keep its options open. Senior leaders insist that while Sonia Gandhi is the senior most leader in the opposition, Pawar’s political deftness in a more active role could not be ignored.

“Pawar has always been a pro-Congress man. Sonia Gandhi is the senior most opposition leader but Rahul Gandhi is now the party chief. Instead of 2019 being Modi versus Rahul, it should be Modi versus all. And in that sense, we have to wait and watch how Pawar positions himself,” a senior Congress leader from Maharashtra said requesting anonymity.

Another party leader said that taking a cue from Uttar Pradesh, Congress would not take the risk of being seen as opposing any move to put together an anti-BJP alliance.

“If a majority of opposition parties other than NCP say that Pawar should take an active lead in bringing together the opposition parties, even if it is in a coordination role, then Congress will not have a lot of choice left. We cannot be seen as blocking any attempt of building an anti-BJP alliance,” the second leader said.

Pawar, 77, is a former Congressman who broke away to form the NCP in 1999. Both Congress and NCP were in alliance in Maharashtra for 15 years before losing power in 2014. NCP was also part of both the terms of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the centre.

“Numerically, Congress is a bigger party and NCP is a much smaller party. Since Congress also has the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, it is obvious that a bigger party will play a bigger role in any anti-BJP alliance. We can debate over the fact that Pawar is a senior leader yet, we cannot the deny numerical situation,” a senior lawmaker from NCP leader said requesting anonymity.

“Pawar is positioning himself by taking a lead in bringing together opposition parties but I do not think this will lead to any major conflict. Congress has more a than 100-year-old history and a pan-India presence and eventually it will lay its claim on leading an anti-BJP grouping,” said Nitin Vishwanath Birmal, professor in the department of social science at the Dr. Ambedkar Art and Commerce College, Yerwada, Pune.

“The main concern for such an alliance is not this; it is the fact that how will it accommodate bigger leaders like Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee who currently do not have any role charted out for them,” added Birmal, who is also the Maharashtra coordinator for New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).livemint