Congress builds bridges with Oppn after Rahul-Modi meet

Rahul Gandhi
There is a blame game on within the Congress on who advised Vice President Rahul Gandhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise the issue of farmer distress on 16 December, which caused cracks in the opposition unity. The Congress has now reached out to opposition parties in a bid to restore this unity and launch nationwide coordinated protests on the 'note ban' issue in January.

According to sources in some of these opposition parties, leaders close to Congress President Sonia Gandhi have approached them to explore the possibility of a joint press conference next week. The Congress wants the press conference to be its show of strength and reflect that opposition unity is restored.

It has been proposed that at the press conference, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and other leaders will also demand that the PM come clean on allegations that he had received over Rs 40 crore in cash payments from individuals associated with the Sahara India and Aditya Birla groups in 2013-14, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat.

The proposal is to hold this press conference on 27 December, on the eve of the 132nd Congress Foundation Day. The Congress was founded on 28 December 1885. Today, some of the opposition leaders collected at an event where Vice President Hamid Ansari released a book on the life of former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh.

The event was hosted by Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav. It was attended by Janata Dal (Secular) President and former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Dushyant Chautala, Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, also attended the event. Rashtriya Lok Dal chief and Charan Singh's son Ajit Singh was also at the event.

The meeting comes amid speculation that a Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls has been sealed. However, there is no official confirmation of it as yet, and whether the Ajit Singh's RLD will be a part of this alliance.

As for the Congress proposal to have a joint press conference, some of the opposition parties are amenable to the proposal, but some others are still upset at the manner in which the Congress leadership had kept them in the dark about Rahul's meeting with Modi at the fag-end of the winter session of Parliament, just as they were preparing to unitedly call on President Pranab Mukherjee to lodge their protest over what they termed was government high-handedness in running parliamentary proceedings.

Several of the political parties -- the Left, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and NCP -- had dropped out of the meeting in protest. Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal and some others had expressed their displeasure but accompanied the Congress leaders to meet the President.

Since then, knives are out within the Congress for the people who advised the Congress Vice President to meet the PM. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had advised against Rahul meeting the PM. The initial plan was that Azad and his Lok Sabha counterpart Mallikarjun Kharge will meet the PM to raise the issue of agrarian distress. But some others felt that Rahul meeting him would show the Congress leader's intent at pursuing the issue.

Those among the opposition parties in favour of a joint press conference want it to be held at a neutral venue, and not at the Congress headquarters. Already, Trinamool Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Rashtriya Janata Dal have demanded that the PM reply to the allegations made by the Congress Vice President at his public rally in Mehsana, Gujarat, earlier this week.

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee has given a call to her party to launch a "Modi hatao, desh bachao (remove Modi, save the country)" campaign in the first week of January. The Left parties will also be holding protests against demonetization, while RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav has planned a protest across Bihar on December 28.


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