Top opposition leaders attend Sonia luncheon over presidential candidate

Henrietta Brewer
May 27, 2017

Others who attended Mrs Gandhi's lunch at the Parliament House library included RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, JD (U)'s Sharad Yadav, DMK's Kanimozhi, and National Conference's Omar Abdullah.

"Opposition parties expressed their resolve to strengthen floor coordination in Parliament to unitedly oppose this government's policies", the joint statement said. "This has not happened so far". In case a consensus was not possible then a committee would be formed to choose an opposition nominee.

Raising speculations in political circles, Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday skipped meeting of leaders of 17 Opposition political parties called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi but agreed to have lunch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi today.

If the JD (U) eventually decides to lean towards the BJP, it could come as a major boost for the saffronites, and the absence of Mr Kumar could possibly have an adverse impact on a united front against the BJP. Leaders said today's meeting had a "huge symbolic and political" value. "I had told Ahmed Patel about this 4-5 days back itself when he had called me to invite JD (U) for the meeting over lunch".

The ruling and principal Opposition parties of two States - Kerala and West Bengal - were present at the meeting.

The term of President Mukherjee will end in July and that of Vice President Hamid Ansari in August this year.

"If he contests presidential election then can't remain an MP".

Banerjee said the Opposition would accept a candidate of government choice if he or she is secular and one who would uphold the Constitution.

Although no name has cropped up officially from the Opposition camp on a consensus candidate, the name of former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi has been doing the rounds. Mamata Banerjee added a twist last evening by suggesting that all parties, in the government and Opposition, support a consensus candidate.

Talking to reporters, Mayawati said the condition of Dalits, people belonging to weaker sections, religious minorities, poor and farmers has deteriorated in the three years of NDA government. At the meeting, attended among others by state rivals such as the Left and the Trinamool Congress and the BSP and the Samajwadi Party, the parties are learnt to have chose to hold their horses and await the government's move.

"Under Modi's rule the Pakistan flag is being waved in Jammu and Kashmir and terrorists from Pakistan cross the border and kill our soldiers". Notably, Nitish had expressed his inability to participate in the meeting due to some engagement and informed that senior JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav will represent the party.

The Congress has been advocating unity among non-NDA parties ahead of the presidential election which, it believes, can be taken forward to the upcoming assembly polls in states such as Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, besides the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

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