Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s iftar party on Wednesday became a meeting ground of several Opposition leaders, with talks centring on political issues and the need for state-level unity ahead of the upcoming elections. It also saw large-scale participation by representatives of the Muslim community.
Gandhi sat next to Pranab Mukherjee, in an apparent signal that the former President’s controversial visit to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters was a thing of the past. Former President Pratibha Patil, former Vice President Hamid Ansari, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury, senior Bahujan Samaj Party leader Satish Mishra, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Kanimozhi and Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi were also present at the table.
This was the second such gathering of the Opposition forces after United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s dinner in March this year. According to observers, Gandhi referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new fitness video posted on Twitter and asked if others had seen it. He then quipped: “I found it bizarre. It’s bizarre.”
He was also heard asking Mukherjee about his views on the unprecedented US-North Korea summit.
Yechury told Mishra how the Left parties were protesting against cases of atrocities against Dalits and Muslims. He also told him that the BSP, Samajwadi Party and Congress must have a state-level pact for the 2019 polls. Mishra and Yechury maintained that a pre-poll nationwide alliance was not feasible.
“The larger message is that almost all Opposition parties came for the iftar and interacted with each other.
This unity is our message to the Dalits and the minorities, ” said a senior Opposition leader who sat at the same table with Gandhi.
A Muslim leader of the Opposition said: “At a time when the BJP has abandoned the culture and practice of iftar in Delhi, this is a good signal to the community.”
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Jha, rebel Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Hemant Soren, Janata Dal (Secular) leader Danish Ali, All India United Democratic Front chief Badruddin Ajmal and a lawmaker from the Indian Union Muslim League were among the others who attended the iftar along with several top diplomats.
The Samajwadi Party was conspicuous by absence despite an invitation to its chief Akhilesh Yadav and senior party leader Ramgopal Yadav.
The BJP, however, took jibes at the Congress for hosting the iftar for “political engineering.” “We talk about development and dignity… The Congress’s iftar is for political engineering. No one has ever tried to organise an iftar for social engineering. We have done it, especially when we are talking about Muslim women, triple talaq and other issues related to their empowerment,” minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, comparing his iftar with the one held by the Congress.
Gandhi asked Trivedi to send his regard to Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. The West Bengal chief minister is reportedly trying to prop up a federal front with the Congress playing the secondary role.