Sonia Gandhi, who remains chairperson of the UPA after handing charge of the Congress to son Rahul Gandhi in 2017, has taken the lead in opposition consolidation efforts to prep for the possibility of a less than decisive verdict on May 23, the day the votes cast in the staggered national election are counted. On behalf of Sonia Gandhi, senior Congress leaders have reached out to allies like DMK chief MK Stalin as well as leaders of parties that are "non-aligned", like Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Jagan Reddy of the YSR Congress and K Chandrashekar Rao of the TRS. Calls have also been made to the Janata Dal Secular, Sharad Pawar's NCP and the Uttar Pradesh opposition alliance partners, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. So far in this national election, Sonia Gandhi has kept a low profile as her children Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigned aggressively against the ruling BJP. However, as the day of the results draws near, the party is aware that it needs every possible ally on board; many remain distant or even cold towards the Congress. Among those who are likely to attend the May 23 opposition meeting are Chandrababu Naidu and Sharad Pawar.
Gathbandhan partners Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav could be the most prominent faces of Sonia Gandhi’s much talked-about May 23 meeting. Neutral players Naveen Patnaik and K Chandrashekhar Rao are also being approached.
In a bid to muster the support of old friends and lead the opposition front, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has sent letters to all key players, including former Uttar Pradesh chief ministers, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, for the May 23 meeting, the day results of the Lok Sabha elections are to be announced.
Letters have also been shot off to key allies, DMK and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for working out instant strategies to stake claim for forming the government at the Centre, in case the NDA, led by incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi falls short of the majority mark.
Among those who have confirmed their participation at the meeting are NCP’s Sharad Pawar and M.K. Stalin of the DMK.
Sonia Gandhi had almost taken the back seat after Rahul Gandhi was elected President of the Congress. However, as the election results draw closer, she returns to take the leadership role to forge a grand opposition alliance which had unfortunately failed last year.
Besides neutral players such as Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and K. Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), Sonia Gandhi is eyeing the support of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav who are expected to secure big numbers if the caste chemistry of votes succeeds in the cow belt.
Party sources said that Sonia Gandhi has stepped into alliance building efforts even before the results are out. She has reportedly been in touch with both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav and also West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Despite remaining out of the pre-poll alliance (gathbandhan) in Uttar Pradesh, Congress leaders have been in constant touch with the BSP and SP leadership. During the poll campaign in UP, Rahul Gandhi chose to remain silent on Mayawati and Akhilesh while launching an open attack on the BJP and RSS.
In several seats in the state, the Congress fielded candidates from the upper castes to cut into the vote bank of the saffron party. In return, the gathbandhan did not contest Rae Bareli and Amethi, the traditional seats held by the Gandhi family. Now Sonia Gandhi’s latest communique to Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav makes it evident that the gathbandhan leaders are also keen to join the UPA to consolidate opposition fraternity.
The national spokesperson of Samajwadi Party, I.P. Singh said the gathbandhan would be the ultimate winner in Uttar Pradesh and would secure at least 60 seats making the SP-BSP alliance the biggest challenger to the BJP. “Akhileshji has the highest regard for Soniaji and our party will certainly play an important role in government formation after May 23,” said Singh.
In its latest internal poll survey, SP has been expecting around 26 seats (out of 37 being contested), though it appears to be an elevated number in the wake of Prime Minister Modi’s marathon rallies in the state after the second phase.
Sources said in the proposed meeting Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati would be the prominent faces besides Sharad Pawar, N. Chandrababu Naidu and M.K. Stalin who are certain to be present. Sources said Congress leaders, particularly Ahmed Patel, are also reaching out to Naveen Patnaik and K Chandrashekhar Rao. Efforts are also being made to approach YSRCP’s Jaganmohan Reddy.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) has alleged that Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao was trying to split non-NDA parties in the name of a Federal Front.
CPI General Secretary Survaram Sudhakar Reddy said the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief was making no effort to meet the leaders of the constituents of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to invite them to join his proposed Federal Front.
Reddy said while the Left parties had no reservation over efforts to bring together the regional parties, the manner in which KCR was pursuing his efforts had raised serious doubts about his real intentions.
The CPI leader told reporters that the TRS President had so far held talks only with the parties which were either part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or which were likely to support it.
“Why is KCR not holding talks with Akali Dal, the party which was fighting for the rights of the states and for a true a federal set up? Why is he not inviting Ram Vilas Paswan’s party to join the Federal Front or making an appeal to other constituents of NDA?” asked Reddy.
The CPI leader said that even before the completion of the Lok Sabha elections, KCR had resumed his efforts to form a Federal Front by visiting various states.
He was referring to TRS leader’s recent meetings with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and DMK leader M.K. Stalin.
Reddy said during the last five years there was not even one instance where KCR criticized the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He said the TRS leader backed every move by the Modi government.
Predicting a fractured verdict and a hung Parliament, Sudhakar Reddy said the formation of a government without the support of either the BJP or Congress was not possible. He appealed to all regional and secular parties to come together to form a non-BJP government.
“More than the power, the country’s future should be important. The need of the hour is to protect democracy, secularism and the Constitution,” he said.
Slamming the Election Commission for cutting short the election campaign in West Bengal by a day, the CPI leader alleged that the poll panel had lost its credibility.
He alleged that the BJP resorted to violence during its President Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata and insulted Bengal’s culture by vandalizing the bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Both the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) may skip May 23 meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi and will wait for a clear picture to emerge after the Lok Sabha battle before responding to her invitation.
Though both the parties have officially denied receiving invitations for the May 23 meeting, they appear to be adopting a wait and watch approach before deciding their next strategy.
Some YSRCP leaders wondered how parties could attend a meeting on May 23 when the counting process would still be underway and a clear picture could emerge only late at night or the next day.
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has invited political heavyweights for the meeting.
TRS President and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, who is trying to bring regional parties together under his proposed Federal Front, is likely to take a decision about talks only after all the results were declared.
As KCR is counting on the support of YSRCP and other parties to push for a non-BJP and non-Congress government, he may wait for the final tally before beginning talks with different players, informed sources said.
Both TRS and YSRCP are likely to emerge kingmakers in the event of the Lok Sabha elections throwing a fractured verdict.
In Telangana, which has 17 Lok Sabha seats, TRS is confident of making a clean sweep along with its ally All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), with the latter expected to retain its Hyderabad seat.
In Andhra Pradesh, YSRCP is tipped to win 20-22 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats. UPA’s reported invitations to both the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSRCP have sparked a debate.
The TDP has already declared its support to Congress and its President N. Chandrababu Naidu is even ready to play the anchor for a non-BJP alliance led by the Congress. It was not clear how Naidu would react to the invitation to YSRCP.
A YSRCP leader termed the May 23 meeting too early.
“As 5 percent VVPAT slips have to be counted, a clear picture will emerge only in the afternoon of May 24,” K Ravichandra Reddy said during a debate on a Telugu channel.
On whether YSRCP will extend support to Congress-led alliance, the party leaders said their stand was clear.
“Our party leader Jagan Mohan Reddy has already made it clear that whichever party comes forward to give special category status to Andhra Pradesh will get our support,” another YSRCP leader said. (IANS)