The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Basu and Sonia at Somnath dinner

New Delhi, Aug. 13: Senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee tonight hosted a dinner at his residence for heads of all Opposition parties, inviting them to break bread with Jyoti Basu, who is in the capital to attend the party’s politburo meeting.

The former Bengal chief minister, who has often played the role of a pivot for Opposition unity, has once again set out on the same course, hoping to bring disparate parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party together to take on the BJP in the Assembly and parliamentary polls.

The list of invitees included Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Lok Sabha Spea-ker Shivraj Patil, Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, his deputy Amar Singh, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, politburo member Sitaram Yechury and CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan.

Chatterjee has been regularly hosting breakfast and dinner meetings for Opposition leaders in order to forge greater unity on the floor of Parliament.

The new invitees at the last two meetings were National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and former Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh.

Chatterjee has maintained that the meetings are only for better co-ordination inside Parliament and not for forging an alternative front outside the House. Today’s dinner is aimed at furthering the camaraderie among Opposition parties.

Mulayam seems to have temporarily suspended his hostility towards Sonia but there is still an undercurrent of tension as both parties continue to eye the same votebank in Uttar Pradesh.

Basu enjoys the confidence of both Sonia and Mulayam and tonight’s dinner could be just one more step to bring the parties closer to each other. The Left believes both the Congress and the Samajwadi are crucial in any strategic move to replace the Vajpayee government with a secular coalition.

In 1999, the CPM, despite its best efforts, could not get Mulayam to support Sonia as Prime Minister, even though it would have kept the National Democratic Alliance out of power.

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