Nitish To Skip Sonia’s ‘Oppn Unity’ Lunch

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New Delhi: All is not well as far as attempts at Opposition unity is concerned with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar deciding to skip the lunch called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday to discuss a common presidential candidate.

Mr Kumar, who was one of the first leaders to call for a joint Opposition presidential candidate, will not attend the lunch as he had some “official engagements,” JD-U national spokesperson K.C. Tyagi told this newspaper. Senior JD-U leader and Rajya Sabha member Sharad Yadav will represent the party.

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The JD-U is in alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. The Bihar chief minister has in the past praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including over the demonetisation exercise. Recently, Mr Prasad, his alliance partner in the state, bore the brunt of raids over benami properties allegedly acquired by his family. Sources said the JD(U)–RJD alliance might be under strain over this.

Interestingly, the meeting which was supposed to take place in the Parliament House complex was cancelled at the last minute and a luncheon meeting was called at Mrs Gandhi’s residence possibly to give it an informal flavour. Leaders who will attend the meeting include RJD chief Lalu Prasad, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerji, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury and CPI’s Sudhakar Reddy.

Sources said that Mrs Gandhi had to take into consideration differences within the CPI-M also over attending the meeting as it would mean sharing stage with the TMC chief.
In West Bengal, the last couple of days have seen pitched battles being fought between the party workers of Congress-Left on one side and TMC on the other side.
The Congress-Left have also accused the TMC of using state machinery, including the police, to target their workers.

Most leaders have already met Mrs Gandhi separately over the last one month for discussions.

Among the names doing the rounds for a joint Opposition presidential candidate are former West Bengal governor Gopal Gandhi, former Speaker Meira Kumar, NCP chief Sharad Pawar as well as JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav. Mr Kumar has also proposed the name of President Pranab Mukherjee for a second term — a suggestion which was accepted by parties like TMC, CPI-M as well as the Congress itself.

Though the NDA has a slight edge after having won the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls with a huge margin, the Opposition is trying to rope in many NDA allies like the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal as well as fence sitters like the Biju Janata Dal. However, there has been no commitment from these parties as of now.

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