Kapil Sibal's Opposition unity meet raises questions

Kapil Sibal's Opposition unity meet raises questions

Sibal had also called on socialist leader Sharad Yadav on August 8

Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal. Credit: PTI Photo

Adding a new twist to Opposition unity efforts, which could raise many eyebrows within the Congress, senior party leader Kapil Sibal on Monday night held a dinner meeting with Opposition leaders, which also recorded the surprise attendance of leaders from Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal, a party which was against the Opposition stand and bailed out Modi government in Parliament on many occasions.

Sibal had also called on socialist leader Sharad Yadav on August 8 after which Yadav had tweeted, "My very good friend and well-wisher who needs no introduction about his vast experience and acquaintance with all the issues facing the country. Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal made a courtesy call. Sibal Sahab, thank you very much."

The presence of a galaxy of top leaders from the Opposition camp----Lalu Prasad from RJD, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav of SP, NC chief Omar Abdullah, CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury, besides leaders from non-BJP, non-Congress allies like Shiromani Akali Dal (which deserted NDA in 2020 opposing farm bills), TDP (which deserted NDA in 2018) and YSRCP led by Jagan Mohan Reddy, whose likely induction in NDA is being talked about for quite some time --- in a meeting hosted by Sibal has kicked off quite a buzz.

That the meeting called by the senior Congress leader did not have the presence of any of the Gandhis, gives a picture of Opposition unity attempt, being worked out at multiple parallel levels, which has the risk of running at cross purposes.

From the Congress, those who attended the meeting were Ghulam Nabi Azad, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik (all members of G-23), P Chidambaram and his son Karti Chidambaram.

"Kapil Sibal is a senior leader, a senior lawyer. He has a warm relationship with everyone. The entire Opposition was present there. We talked about 2024 and UP polls and talks happened in a very positive manner," Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut, who was also among the attendees, said on Tuesday.

One of the key discussions in the meeting was to chalk out a formula on how the Opposition can fight the BJP together in the upcoming Assembly polls in March 2022 in UP with 80 Lok Sabha constituencies, which could be sort of a precursor to larger Opposition unity in 2024.

The meeting also came at a time when the AICC is engaged in brand building of Rahul Gandhi, calling him the only leader in national politics who is not afraid of questioning Narendra Modi and BJP.  

While SP said it is open to alliance with smaller parties (thereby ruling out Congress), BSP has openly said it will fight the polls on its own and an "organisationally weak" Congress is far waging a lonely batter, albeit somewhat spirited one with the push of Priyanka Gandhi. BJP, which got nearly 50 per cent votes in UP in the last Lok Sabha polls, could find it easier to defeat a divided Opposition as any party with a 35 per cent vote can easily form the government in such a quadrangular contest.

The meeting was also attended by Congress ally DMK's Tiruchy Siva, CPI's D Raja, AAP's Sanjay Singh, RLD's Jayant Chaudhary, Akali Dal's Naresh Gujaral and Derek O' Brien and Kalyan Banerjee from Trinamool Congress, besides BJD's Pinaki Misra.

Sibal's meeting was the fourth parallel Opposition unity attempt being led by different leaders. To start with, Sharad Pawar held a meeting at his residence in Delhi of Rashtra Manch of Yashwant Sinha in June, where some junior leaders from Opposition parties took part along with eminent persons from other walks of life. In July end, Mamata Banerjee was on a five-day tour of Delhi, during which she met many Opposition leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, while on August 3, Rahul Gandhi held a breakfast meeting with leaders of 15 Opposition parties.

However, given the attendance of leaders of stature, Sibal's dinner meeting steals the show. Sibal has been in the forefront, seeking changes in the way Congress is functioning. At the meeting, some leaders are learnt to have pitched for urgent measures to revive the Congress.

A number of senior leaders in the Opposition are not quite enthused by the idea of working under Rahul Gandhi in any united Opposition umbrella even as they are not averse to Congress taking a lead role in such an arrangement. Secondly, many in the Opposition feel that Congress should not contest in a large number of seats in Assembly polls in states, where it is a minor player and leave it on the dominant regional party to take on the BJP--like SP in UP, RJD in Bihar, DMK in Tamil Nadu, TMC in West Bengal and BJD in Odisha.

Though the meeting did not come out with any clear cut action plan, the Opposition leaders underlined the need to hold such meetings more frequently. The first such high profile engagement with top Opposition leaders by the G-23 group of Congress leaders, who had in past called for a complete rehaul, also comes ahead of impending organisational elections in Congress a few months later, which will culminate in the party having a new president.