The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia sets Sunday dinner date

New Delhi, Feb. 13: The Congress chief will aim at wresting the political initiative from the BJP-led NDA in the budget session of Parliament by rallying round the Opposition at the dinner meeting she will host on Sunday for top Opposition leaders.

Former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and H.D. Deve Gowda, CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Laloo Prasad Yadav, Muslim League’s G.M. Banatwala and the Samajwadi Party are among the invitees.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy made light of the reported decision of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Forward Bloc — both Left Front partners — to stay away from the dinner meet. “We have no comment on the reported decision of RSP and Forward Bloc leaders,” he said.

Invitations have already been sent to the Opposition leaders and most have confirmed their participation, a senior Congress leader said. He, however, declined to disclose the entire list of invitees.

“All parties (from the Opposition) are not invited. Only a few important leaders are invited so that the gathering is small,” he said.

The broad agenda at the dinner meet will be to explore the extent of floor coordination the Opposition parties can effectively achieve, sources said.

The overall political situation in the country will obviously figure, they said, and efforts will be made to arrive at common positions on key policy issues.

The dinner will be the first Sharad Pawar will attend at Sonia’s 10 Janpath home after his expulsion from the Congress over three years ago.

Ahead of the meet, Sonia has convened a strategy session of her party leaders on Saturday.

The session, also over dinner, will be attended by Congress parliamentary leaders, including Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh, Shivraj Patil and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, and other senior party members, the sources said.

While the sources declined to list the probable issues that may top the Congress agenda in the budget session, they clarified that several policy issues -- economic, social and political -- will figure. These include Ayodhya, terrorism, disinvestment in public sector units and the drought situation.

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