Pawar takes centre stage as Opposition plans moves for Budget Session

With Sonia Gandhi stepping aside, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar on Monday took centre stage in crafting Opposition strategy for Parliament session.

After helming the 'Save Constitution' rally in Mumbai on Republic Day, Pawar had a long chat with Congress President Rahul Gandhi in Parliament which saw a brief cameo by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

The NCP chief chaired a meeting of Opposition leaders at his residence on Monday evening that was attended by Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma (both Congress), Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), T K Rangarajan (CPM) and D Raja (CPI).

The leaders agreed to meet often during the Budget Session and coordinate positions on various issues facing the nation with an option of enhancing the scope of their cooperation for 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

To begin with, the leaders decided to oppose the move by the Modi government to amend labour laws, relax norms for FDI in retail and the strong pitch for simultaneous elections.

"Right now, the coordination and cooperation is for the current Budget Session. The scope of this cooperation can be expanded as elections get nearer," NCP leader Praful Patel told reporters here.

The clear opposition role by Pawar may also help him dispel speculation of planning to reach a tacit understanding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ever since a Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance of RJD, JD(U) and Congress defeated the BJP in 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, a coalition is seen as the only way to stop the saffron party which has won elections in nearly a dozen states since 2014. However, attempts to forge a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh fizzled out with no end to differences between the SP and BSP. The Presidential election also saw fresh moves for Opposition unity against the BJP, but they too came a cropper.

Sonia Gandhi has taken a backseat in active politics after Rahul Gandhi became Congress President last month.

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