Dinner boost to Opposition unity

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UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday hosted a dinner for Opposition leaders at her New Delhi residence in 10 Janpath, as the Congress moves ahead ambitiously to form a united alliance to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP)-led NDA in 2019 General Elections.

Lalu's son and Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav is also likely to attend the dinner but there was no confirmation.

Among those present was Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who attended the dinner amid talk about his intention to float a separate federal front with regional parties.

Apart from NCP, SP and BSP leaders, Rashtriya Janata Dal's (RJD) Tejashwi Yadav, Hindustani Awam Morcha's (HAM) Jitan Ram Manjhi, National Conference's (NC) Omar Abdullah, JVM's Babulal Marandi, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)'s Kanimozhi and All India United Democratic Front's (AIUDF) Badruddin Ajmal also attended the dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi. "Much political talk but much more important - tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection", Rahul Gandhi tweeted. "Fabulous dinner tonight hosted by UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi Ji".

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Sources in the SP and BSP, however, maintained that the dinner meet can not be seen as an attempt to forge an alliance and that "regional parties" will continue to have an "inevitable greater control in state politics".

Those conspicuous by their absence included Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal C M Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.

In Parliament, the immediate casualty of the deadlock was the Finance Bill, 2018 which was listed for consideration and passage on Tuesday. "This was meant to strengthen dialogue between the friendly parties".

He claimed that the Congress was running away from a debate on the PNB scam as it "feared" that many skeletons in its cupboard will tumble out if a debate took place.

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This dinner is also significant in the context of moves by regional parties like the Telanagana Rashtra Samiti and the Telugu Desam Party, which have attacked the BJP in the recent past and are said to be jockeying for a third front of parties against the BJP and Congress.

The Congress put the onus on the government to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament. "Congress doesn't have democracy in its genes", parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar said.

Mr Kumar added that Congress president Rahul Gandhi went overseas because he could not face defeat in the elections.

According to top NCP sources, Sharad Pawar has called a meet of all opposition leaders, including the Congress, to discuss a strategy for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

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PTI contributed to the story.

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