|Mayawati arrives for the UPA lunch on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 6: The Congress leadership appears determined to build on the unexpected political gains from the presidential election, focusing on a larger goal of strengthening the unity among secular parties ahead of the next general election.
Congress leaders said the strategy to keep the secular parties in good humour reflected more than a clever parliamentary tactic as the capacity to restrict the BJP’s coalition-making options would decisively influence the outcome of the next electoral battles.
“We don’t want to show any bit of arrogance and drive away friendly parties no matter they support or oppose our bills in Parliament,” a senior cabinet minister said.
The carefully drafted strategy was in full display today at Sonia Gandhi’s lunch to show solidarity with Hamid Ansari, the UPA’s candidate for Vice-President, with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party getting equal importance.
While Sonia took care to ensure BSP leader Mayawati sat along with her at the high table, the Prime Minister played host to Mulayam Singh Yadav and Trinamul Congress leaders.
Mayawati, who does not turn up at such occasions and sends her representatives instead, chose to be present today and succeeded in preventing her rival Mulayam from stealing the limelight.
Leaders present at the lunch said Sonia walked up to Mayawati, who was standing in a corner along with her MPs, and made the Uttar Pradesh leader sit beside her. Manmohan, acting in harmony, asked Mulayam to sit beside him.
Two days ago, the Prime Minister had demonstrated fondness for the Left. The four Left parties, which had sought appointment with him to submit a memorandum on the food security bill on Friday afternoon, were pleasantly surprised to be told within a few hours that they can meet him the next morning.
Sources said the Prime Minister, who was not well owing to a stomach problem, not only praised the Left for turning food security into a people’s movement but, on his own, extended discussions to the economy and the oil crisis.
CPM leader Prakash Karat, accompanied by S. Sudhakar Reddy (CPI), Debabrata Biswas (Forward Bloc) and Abani Roy (RSP), returned satisfied though many had expected the first formal meeting with the Prime Minister after the nuclear deal row to be a cold affair.
Congress leaders said these gestures should not be seen as a quest for an insurance against Mamata Banerjee as Trinamul, too, would be kept in the UPA at all cost.
The absence of Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel at today’s lunch triggered speculation about their unhappiness but other NCP leaders present dismissed such readings. Apart from Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, senior leaders Tariq Anwar and D.P. Tripathi were present at the lunch.
The Congress has also promised to hold a meeting of the UPA co-ordination committee within the next two days to discuss issues in the monsoon session of Parliament.
The Congress is also making a collective effort to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament. Leaders like P. Chidambaram, Pawan Bansal, V. Narayanasamy and Rajiv Shukla are actively assisting the leader of the Lok Sabha, Sushil Kumar Shinde, in sorting out issues with the Opposition.