Former Union Minister Kapil Sibal hosted a dinner at his Delhi home on Monday for a galaxy of opposition leaders. While the immediate occasion was his birthday celebration, the meeting became a rallying point for the opposition against the Narendra Modi government. Questions were also asked about the rejuvenation of the Congress, which some leaders present suggested can only be happen if the Gandhis were freed from the clutches of their leadership, sources said. The Gandhis were not present at the gathering.
Mr Sibal was among the dissenters who wrote an explosive letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last year, expressing concern over the party’s slide since it lost power in 2014. In what was seen as a stunning act of defiance, they also demanded sweeping organisational changes – including “active, visible leadership” and internal elections.
The invitees included other leaders pushing for change- P Chidambaram, Shashi Tharoor and Anand Sharma. All three are among the leaders who have been raising questions within the party about its future.
The opposition leaders present included Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien and Omar Abdullah of National Conference.
In a first, the Akali Dal was also invited at the meet – senior party leader Naresh Gujral was present. So was Pinaki Mishra from Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal – party that keeps lending what it calls issue-based support to the government.
Mr Sibal had started off the attack against the government, explaining how every institution has been destroyed during its tenure. He also underscored the need for all opposition parties to work with a clear focus.
Omar Abdullah pointed out that whenever the Congress is strong, the opposition becomes stronger and questioned what steps were being taken to strengthen the party.
Naresh Gujral of the Akali Dal launched a direct attack on the Gandhis, saying unless the party gets out of the clutches of the family, it will be very difficult to strengthen the party.
It has been suggested frequently by leaders both within the party and other opposition parties that the Congress, to get strengthened, must have a change in leadership. Several leaders, though, have been pushing for a comeback by Rahul Gandhi.
Asked about the issue, Mr Gandhi in an interview with news organisation Press Trust of India, had said, “It is for the party workers to decide as to who should lead the party. I will do whatever the party wants me to do”.
The internal elections promised to the dissidents are yet to happen despite several meets of the Working Committee – the party’s highest decision-making body – to discuss the matter.
Lalu Yadav, who till lately had been in jail and made a rare appearance, urged the opposition parties to work together and remove the BJP.
The Congress, Mr Chidambaram suggested, should come to an understanding with the regional parties in states to put up a united front against the BJP.
It was pointed to most opposition leaders that a beginning has been made and all political leaders must work together to defeat the BJP.
The gathering also wished Akhilesh Yadav luck for next year’s assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.