Amid talk of Opposition unity, key 'federal front' leaders missing from Rahul Gandhi's iftar party: SP, Deve Gowda, RJD skip event

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s iftar party on Wednesday saw many Opposition members and diplomats in attendance. However, the lustre of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s dinner in March 2018 was largely missing.

Sonia's dinner was attended by all top leaders of the Opposition including NCP chief Sharad Pawar, his colleague Praful Patel, Samajwadi Party veteran Ramgopal Yadav, RJD chief Lalu Yadav’s son Tejaswi Yadav and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference.

However, as Sonia herself missed Rahul's party owing to her ongoing treatment abroad, many top leaders of the 'federal front' too were conspicuous by their absence. West Bengal chief minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and BSP supremo Mayawati chose to skip the dinner.

Even prominent opposition leaders like HD Deve Gowda, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav were among the absentees, despite invites being sent out to leaders of at least 17 national and regional parties. SP did not even send a representative from the party to attend the event.

In fact, there was even speculation on whether former president Pranab Mukherjee would be invited to the bash since he had drawn the party's ire after his controversial visit to the RSS headquarters last week. But Congress later issued an official statement to set at rest the rumours by saying that the former president had indeed been invited. However, Mukherjee, who sat beside Rahul on the dinner table, left after a while.

This was the first ever iftar party to be hosted by Rahul as Congress president. The party did not hold iftar, which marks the customary breaking of the day-long fast in the holy month of Ramzan, in 2016 and 2017. However, this year's iftar bash was being keenly watched in the political circles for the  'show of unity' of opposition leaders at a time when the Congress is positioning itself as the center of the 'federal front' ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Interestingly, PTI sources reported that Telangana chief minister and TRS chief K Chandrashekhar Rao, Andhra Pradesh chief minister and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and Delhi chief minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal were not invited for the event.

These developments are crucial in the current political context and the emerging third-front scenario as not all regional leaders are in favour of a Congress-led united Opposition. Many of them including Chandrababu Naidu, have already made it clear that they are looking to build a 'non-BJP, non-Congress' alliance ahead of the general elections in 2019.

Meanwhile, earlier this week Akhilesh Yadav too warned his party members of the possibility that BSP might join hands with the Congress instead of supporting the Samajwadi Party, which won't be a favourable scenario for their political ambitions to unfold.

Though, Rahul's party was not a complete no-show either as former president Pratibha Patil, former vice president Hamid Ansari and former prime minister Manmohan Singh marked their attendance at the event which was held in the Taj Mansingh hotel in New Delhi.

Other attendees at the bash included CPM chief Sitaram Yechury, senior BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra, DMK’s Kanimozhi and TMC's Dinesh Trivedi.

“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," a senior Opposition leader told The Hindustan Times. While 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.”

RJD leader Manoj Jha, rebel JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Hemant Soren, JD(S) 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 like Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay R Kudashev, according to The Times of India report.

Senior Congress leaders P Chidambaram and Shashi Tharoor, Sheila Dixit, AK Antony, Anand Sharma and Mallikarjun Kharge also attended the party along with NCP leader DP Tripathy and RLD's Mehrajuddin.

However, it remains to be seen how many of these newly formed equations sustain the test of time to make sure the numbers are enough to lead the Opposition to a formidable show in the upcoming elections.

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Updated Date: Jun 14, 2018 14:14:01 IST