Sonia Gandhi (left) with Mamata Banerjee after the meeting at Parliament. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Aug. 11: The Opposition meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi today to discuss united political action against the Narendra Modi government was eclipsed by the absence of Sharad Pawar's NCP, which is struggling to cope with the charge of betrayal in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections.
Although Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad said he had spoken to Pawar in the morning and he had expressed his inability to attend because of illness, the NCP has always been represented by either Praful Patel or Tariq Anwar if Pawar is not available. Anwar and Praful, as well as Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, were in Delhi today.
Asked about the rumour that the NCP boycotted the meeting because of misgivings over its role in the Rajya Sabha election of Sonia's political secretary Ahmed Patel, Azad said: "Why should I believe in something else when I myself spoke to Pawar?
"He has not attended Parliament for the last four-five days despite important events like the swearing-in of the Vice-President, the farewell of important members and the Quit India anniversary. He said he would have definitely attended (the meeting) if he was not unwell."
The NCP's absence was not discussed in the Opposition meeting but every leader stressed the importance of Ahmed Patel's victory and condemned the BJP for stooping so low for one seat.
In such an ambience, the NCP would have felt uncomfortable as there is a widespread belief that its two MLAs didn't vote for Ahmed Patel as part of the larger plot to defeat the Congress candidate.
Although Praful Patel, who is in charge of the NCP's Gujarat affairs, has claimed that only one of its MLAs violated the party whip and voted for the BJP, the Congress has publicly expressed doubts about this.
The Congress has decided not to even consider an alliance with the NCP for the Gujarat Assembly polls this year-end.
The Congress's Gujarat unit sees Praful Patel's role with deep suspicion even as some leaders feel Pawar was not supportive of the inclination towards the BJP.
The Congress is adopting a wait-and-watch policy as the NCP's exit close on the heels of the Janata Dal United's somersault would deliver a debilitating blow to Opposition unity.
The Opposition unity anyway looked fragile today as CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury came out in the middle of the meeting and made statements that gave the impression that the Left had reservations about sharing a stage where the Trinamul Congress's dominance was more than obvious. He repeatedly used the word "independently" while describing the Left's future course of action.
"I have given the CPM's point of view at the meeting. We think people's issues like agrarian distress, unemployment, etc, are major challenges before us and there is a need for creating an alternative narrative. This can happen only through people's struggle. The Left has decided to independently work towards this. Those who are willing to join are welcome," he said.
Asked if the Left was not part of the Opposition unity, Yechury said: "We are committed to build an anti-Modi people's struggle. As far as India's syncretic culture and attack on pluralism are concerned, there are no two opinions. We are one."
This cautious approach was devoid of a categorical commitment to build an alternative front to take on Modi in the 2019 general election. The ambiguity was in tune with the CPM's official position of equi-distance from the BJP and the Congress.
Azad said it was decided to form a coordination committee to plan and implement political action on issues such as farm crisis, unemployment and atrocities against minorities and Dalits, among others.
Sonia has been authorised to announce the committee.
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee stressed the need for sustained activities on the ground and joint action in different parts of the country.
Although JDU leader Sharad Yadav had been invited, he sent colleague Ali Anwar to attend the meeting. The JDU later suspended Anwar for attending the meeting.