Amid much political attention, Sharad Pawar Tuesday hosted a meeting of leaders of eight Opposition parties apart from some eminent personalities at his residence here, where a decision was taken to formulate an “alternate”, “inclusive” vision for India. The Congress stayed away.
The meeting was organised by the Rashtra Manch, an anti-BJP platform including non-political supporters, led by Yashwant Sinha, the former NDA minister who is now in the Trinamool Congress. Apart from the TMC and NCP, the meeting had representation from the RLD, National Conference, Samajwadi Party, AAP, CPM and CPI.
Invites had been sent to at least five Congress leaders, the NCP said. With the five absenting themselves, Pawar, it is learnt, made it a point to stress that no “political meaning” be read into the gathering. Sources said Sinha too clarified right at the beginning that reports that the meeting was part of ‘third front’ manoeuvres was totally “unfounded”. To a query by the CPI’s Binoy Vishwam, Pawar is learnt to have said that the Congress has a role to play in the “struggle” against the present system and it will be approached.
In the end it was either a storm in a teacup, as one leader put it, or a work in progress to rally like-minded parties.
Sources said some Congress leaders earlier associated with the Rashtra Manch were not too happy with Sinha’s decision to organise such a meeting at the residence of Pawar, with the NCP chief often talked about as the potential leader of an Opposition front. Earlier in the day at a press conference, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi refused to answer questions regarding the meeting.
The NCP’s Majeed Memon, who has been associated with the Manch since its inception, said after the meeting, “Reports that Sharad Pawar has called this gathering to rally anti-BJP political parties are unfounded. This meeting has taken place at Pawar’s residence but he has not convened this meeting. This meeting was called by Rashtra Manch leader Yashwant Sinha… Secondly, it is said that this is a big political step by Pawar and that the Congress is excluded… This is also wrong. There is no discrimination or exclusion on political lines.”
Memon added that among the leaders “who subscribe to the ideology of the Manch” who were sent invites were Congress MPs Vivek Tanha, Manish Tewari, Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Shatrughan Sinha. “Some of them had genuine reasons… (they said) we are with you but would not be able to come… So there is no Congress boycott. Neither is a big coalition being formed to keep the Congress out. All these ideas are wrong,” he said.
Separately, on Tuesday evening, senior Congress leader Kamal Nath called on Pawar. Asked about it, he said it was a courtesy meeting following the NCP chief’s recent medical procedure.
Apart from Sinha, Pawar and the CPI’s Vishwam, the meeting was attended by the RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary, the NC’s Omar Abdullah, the CPM’s Nilotpal Basu, AAP’s Sushil Gupta and the Samajwadi Party’s Ghanshyam Tiwari, who is also a coordinator of the Manch. The other leaders present from the NCP were Memon, Supriya Sule and Vandana Chavan.
Besides them, the meeting included former diplomat and ex-JD(U) leader Pawan Verma, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar, retired judge Justice A P Shah, former ambassador K C Singh, former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni and economist Arun Kumar.
The SP’s Tiwari said the alternative vision the Manch will formulate for the country will cover issues dealing with economy, unemployment, farmers, attacks on democratic rights, freedom of the press, inflation and Centre-state relationship. The “interest” the meeting had garnered, he added, showed that “people want an atmosphere in the country where there is an alternative thought process and vision”.