Anti-BJP front on the menu at Sonia's opposition dinner meeting

Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Parliament during second phase of budget session in New Delhi

From initial apprehensions of the diplomacy dinner being a complete washout, former Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi yet again managed to pull off a reasonable show of strength on Tuesday evening as representatives from all 19 Opposition parties invited to her residence at 10, Janpath, turned up and reinforced the idea of a united Opposition.

Former chief ministers of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha will attend the dinner, along with former Bihar chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha chief Jitan Ram Manjhi, who recently quit the NDA and joined forces with Lalu Prasad's RJD.

Besides Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and party leaders Ahmed Patel, and A.K. Antony were among those present. Congress communications incharge Randeep Surjewala said the dinner was not organised for politics, but for amity and friendship among opposition parties.

Parties attended the dinner were the CPI (M), CPI, DMK, RJD, HAM, RLD, National Conference, JDS, JMM, AIUDF, Kerala Congress, IUML, JVM, JMM, RSP and others. He had earlier said, "Will not be able to attend the dinner as the Assembly session in Tamil Nadu was beginning from March 15". "Much political talk but much more important - tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection" said congress president Rahul Gandhi after the dinner. An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally.

The BJD and the TRS rule Odisha and Telangana respectively. "The intention is not political, but to hold discussions in family-like setting at a time when the nation is confronted with a number of issues and thousands of crores of rupees being taken out of the country", Surjewala later told mediapersons.

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"The opposition parties are united. and the NDA breaking apart", he said, pointing to Chandrababu Naidu's TDP and the Shiv Sena, the BJP ally from Maharashtra that has increasingly been its sharpest critic.

But attendance at the dinner alone is unlikely to be an indicator of where the opposition parties stand ahead of the next general elections.

Some leaders later said that the dinner was part of effort to forge a front against the BJP in the Lok Sabha battle next year and regional rivals were coming together.

He said opposition leaders got together to discuss issues in the national interest, create bonhomie in the opposition and exchange views. He also accused the Government of running away from a debate on key issues such as banking frauds. "This is our duty to let it work and the government has been doing everything to ensure that it happens", said Ananth Kumar, parliamentary affairs minister.

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