Not a political meeting: Nationalist Congress Party
8 Opposition parties gether at Pawar's residence
New Delhi: A meeting at veteran politician Sharad Pawar's house on Tuesday, which drew outsized attention over reports of Third Front manoeuvres ahead of the 2024 polls, featured eight parties, including Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Left. The Congress was missing.
Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha said he had asked Sharad Pawar to host the gathering of his outfit Rashtra Manch to "debate current events". "The meeting was called by Yashwant Sinha, not Sharad Pawar, this was not a political meet," stressed Majeed Memon, a leader of Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
For the NCP, leaving out the Congress, its ally in Maharashtra, would be awkward.
"There are talks that the meeting was for a Third Front without the Congress, which is not the truth. There is no discrimination. We called all like-minded people."
"We also invited Congress leaders. I called Vivek Tanha, Manish Tiwari, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Shatrughan Sinha for the meeting. They couldn't come. It's not true that we didn't invite Congress," Memon asserted, when reporters asked why the Congress was missing at a gathering of Opposition parties.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, RLD's Jayant Choudhary, the Samajwadi Party's Ghanshyam Tiwari, AAP leader Sushil Gupta, CPI's Binoy Viswam and CPM's Nilotpal Basu were among those who attended the meet. "It was not a political meeting but an interaction among like-minded people. Issues like Covid management, 'attack' on institutions and unemployment were discussed," Nilotpal Basu told reporters.
Others at the gathering were retired Justice AP Shah, former ambassador KC Singh and lyricist Javed Akhtar. Senior lawyer KTS Tulsi, former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi and senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves skipped the meet.
With Pawar, one of India's most experienced politicians and a skilled negotiator, playing host, the meeting was projected by many as early steps towards forming an opposition front to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the 2024 national election.
However, those associated with the event clarified that the gathering had nothing to do with putting together a Third Front. "Yashwant Sinha heads the Rashtra Manch. He asked to meet with Pawar. So the meeting is an initiative of the Rashtra Manch," said NCP leader Praful Patel.
Sources close to Sharad Pawar said neither he nor his party had put out any invitations. "This is a highly overrated and speculative meeting," they said.