Modi-Rahul meet breaks Opposition unity

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi addressing the media after attending the last day of the Winter session at the Parliament House.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi addressing the media after attending the last day of the Winter session at the Parliament House.

The winter session of Parliament ended on a sour note for the Opposition as the unity its members had so carefully crafted broke on Friday.

This happened as a majority of the 16 parties, scheduled to meet President Pranab Mukherjee together on the demonetisation issue, took umbrage at the Congress breaking ranks to keep an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Skip meeting with Pranab

The result was instantaneous: the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party (both gearing up for critical elections in Uttar Pradesh), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Nationalist Congress Party skipped the meeting with the President in protest. The DMK and the Left Parties, however, signed the joint memorandum submitted to the President.

If most of the Opposition parties were furious with the Congress and vocal about it, within the Congress, too, there were many who said privately that the leadership had erred politically in not deferring the meeting with the Prime Minister.

“There was nothing more important than maintaining Opposition solidarity till the end of the session,” a senior Congress leader said. “But instead of a climax, there was an anti-climax.”

“Just a few days ago, Rahulji had said that he would reveal something incriminating about the Prime Minister. But without doing it, he is seen sitting and talking to him. Secondly, our party allowed the Lok Sabha to function. Rahulji should have used the opportunity today [Friday] — and the immunity that Parliament provides — to make an attempt to speak. But that opportunity was lost, too. And the session ended with the government having its way,” a senior Congress leader said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Rahul Gandhi led a party delegation to meet Mr. Modi with a demand for waiver of all farm loans.

This was surprising in itself as it came days after Mr. Gandhi had said that he had explosive information of a case of corruption involving the Prime Minister himself and that he intended to make it public soon.

The Prime Minister’s response to the Congress delegation was predictable: according to Mr. Gandhi, he “acknowledged that the farmers’ issue is serious but was mum on the loan waiver demand”.

Damaging optics

But the optics — visuals of Mr. Gandhi with his senior parliamentary colleagues ensconced around a table with Mr. Modi — were enough for the Opposition.

Later, a senior Trinamool Congress leader said, “When we heard last night [Thursday] about the proposed meeting with the Prime Minister, we had told the Congress to postpone it by a few days. At that point we were told that Rahul himself would not go.”

Within the Congress, the blame game has started. Chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia, it is being said, had on behalf of the party sought a meeting with the Prime Minister a while back.

But time was given only on Friday. Mr. Gandhi was initially not meant to accompany his colleagues to the Prime Minister’s Office.

At the last minute, he “allowed himself to be persuaded by Mr. Scindia”, party sources said.

Clearly, even Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress Leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge did not advise him against going for the meeting.

The SP and the BSP are particularly irked as they believe that the Congress deliberately went to meet Mr. Modi to make the farm loan waiver demand as a campaign issue for the upcoming polls in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh early next year.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2022 8:05:17 pm |