Congress eager to carry bonhomie to coordination committee meeting on Wednesday

On Tuesday, when the voting starts for the Vice-Presidential election, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and its supporting parties will present a united front, casting their votes for UPA candidate Hamid Ansari. On Monday, at a lunch hosted by Congress chief and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, even the UPA’s difficult ally, the Trinamool Congress, was present in full strength, with several MPs, including Sudip Bandyopadhyay, C.M. Jatua and Derek O’Brien there.

In addition, representatives of the parties that support the alliance from outside, Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati were in attendance. Congress managers said they expect Mr. Ansari to poll over 500 votes out of a possible 790: the cut-off mark is 396. Indeed, on Monday, all the party MPs were made to go through a mock voting exercise to ensure they all get it right on Tuesday.

The Congress also does not want to lose the momentum on this show of bonhomie in the UPA seen at Ms. Gandhi’s lunch: so on August 8, the day the monsoon session of Parliament starts, the first meeting of the newly constituted UPA coordination committee, under the chairpersonship of Ms. Gandhi, is to be held. This comes in the wake of the demand made by the Nationalist Congress Party for a larger role for the UPA allies in decision-making related not just to policies and election strategy, but to gubernatorial and other similar appointments. Indeed, the NCP had come close to pulling out from the UPA government.

Leaders of the all the constituent parties will be on the committee, but the key allies, the Trinamool, the NCP and the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, are yet to name their representatives.

Apart from Ms. Gandhi, others from the Congress on the panel are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

As far as the Congress is concerned, it wants to make maximise the support of parties such as the SP and BSP. While Ms. Mayawati sat at Ms. Gandhi’s table at Hotel Ashok on Tuesday, Mr. Yadav was given the pride of place, seated next to Dr. Singh at the table he presided over.

It may be recalled that at the UPA’s third anniversary dinner earlier this year in May, Mr. Yadav was even seated on the dais, along with all the UPA’s top leaders.

Significantly, the two rivals in Uttar Pradesh politics have not been seen at the same function for many years: those who attended the lunch said that while the two did not exchange any words, they greeted each other with a namaste.

Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to play a larger role in the Congress and the government sat at a separate table, at which Mr. Shinde, Mr. Antony, Power Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Civil Aviation Minister and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and senior Congress leader Karan Singh were seated.

Mr. Gandhi’s presiding over a separate table was a message in itself — at the UPA’s third anniversary dinner, he had sat at his mother’s table.

The Trinamool’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay and the NCP’s Supriya Sule shared the table with Ms. Gandhi: Ms. Sule got top billing, thanks to the fact that her father, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was unable to attend the luncheon meeting.

Seated with the Prime Minister were Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, Lok Jan Shakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan and NCP leaders Tariq Anwar and D.P. Tripathi.

The absence of both Mr. Pawar and his deputy, Praful Patel, caused comment, but Mr. Tripathi was quick to say there was “no political message” to be read in this.

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