Congress president Sonia Gandhi will hold a virtual interaction on August 20 with top Opposition leaders like West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin among others, a senior Congress leader said on Thursday.
Other invitees include NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, CPI general secretary D. Raja and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
Though the agenda is not known, the senior leader said Ms. Gandhi wanted to keep the momentum going in terms of Opposition unity, and the virtual meeting was likely to be followed by a physical meeting in September, either as a dinner or a lunch get-together.
The meeting is a signal that the Congress is keen to be a rallying point for the Opposition parties in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Her virtual interaction with Opposition leaders comes in the wake of a dinner hosted by senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, one of the Congress’s group of 23 dissenters who had asked Ms. Gandhi for reforms within the Congress.
Though Mr. Sibal’s dinner on August 9 was meant to celebrate his 73rd birthday, an impressive line-up of heavy weights gave it distinct political flavour. Among the leaders who attended it were Mr. Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal patriarch Lalu Yadav, Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav, Mr. Yechury, Mr. D. Raja, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena, Pinaki Misra of the Biju Janata Dal, Derek O'Brien of the TrinamoolCongress, Tiruchi Siva of the DMK and Naresh Gujral of Akali Dal.
In political circles, Mr. Sibal’s dinner was being interpreted as a challenge to the leadership of the Gandhis, as at least two members were reported to have been critical of the Congress leadership.
The Congress president’s interaction with the Opposition heavyweights would add to the party’s efforts to keep the Opposition flock together. During the monsoon session, more than 15 Opposition parties closely coordinated their strategy in terms of disruptions and protests over issues like the Pegasus snooping controversy, demand to repeal the farm laws, rising fuel prices and inflation.
During the Parliament session, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi too hosted the Opposition leaders for breakfast and took part in a cycle protest over fuel prices as part of the Opposition’s joint strategy.