Political arch-rivals today put up a united face on the third anniversary of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, as leaders of 17 parties attended a lunch hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Bitter contenders in Uttar Pradesh — the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party — and hostile rivals in West Bengal — the Trinamool Congress and the Left — were all present at the lunch at the Parliament House library. Apart from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, BSP’s Mayawati and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, the lunch was attended by NCP leader Sharad Pawar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and DMK’s Kanimozhi.
Left leaders Sitaram Yechury, S Sudhakar Reddy, D Raja and P. Karunakaran were also present, as were Sharad Yadav and K C Tyagi of the Janata Dal (U). Besides representatives of smaller regional parties, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference also attended the event. Apart from Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the Congress was represented by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad.
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The Congress, the main party in the opposition, has planned a grand show of unity at the luncheon, where deliberations on a consensus presidential candidate will also take place. The leaders will explore the possibility of fielding a joint candidate for the upcoming presidential election. The Congress has been advocating unity among non-NDA parties ahead of the presidential election which, it believes, can be taken forward to the upcoming assembly polls in states such as Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, besides the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
Several names have been doing the rounds as probable candidates. Among them are former West Bengal Governor and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former JD(U) president Yadav, Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar and NCP chief Pawar. The NCP leader, however, has ruled himself out of the race. Bihar Chief Minister Kumar has also mooted a second term for incumbent Pranab Mukherjee and suggested that the ruling BJP try and build consensus on him.
Kumar missed today’s lunch because of a prior engagement. Leaders of 17 parties attended the lunch. Among the many present were SP’s Naresh Aggarwal and Ram Gopal Yadav, AIUDF’s Badruddin Ajmal, JMM’s Sanjiv Kumar, JD(S)’s C S Puttaraju and RSP’s N K Premachandran.