Congress veterans-Didi meets showcase new terms of 'engagement'

Congress veterans-Didi meets showcase new terms of ‘engagement’

Congress fault lines and anxiety of the Gandhis over Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee acquiring the image of a ‘national secular champion’ played out on Tuesday when a couple of senior leaders met her during her first visit to New Delhi after her assembly poll win over BJP. The meeting signalled a marked deviation from established protocol followed by Congress leaders, amid talks of realignment of opposition forces. As the day progressed, more Congress leaders appeared eager to reach out to ‘Didi’.

Senior Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma separately visited Banerjee at her South Avenue camp office and generously praised her for trouncing the BJP while stressing that the ‘whole secular nation’ remained excited about her achievement. Banerjee has not seen such courtesy calls by Congress leaders, especially under the glare of television cameras, during her past engagements in Delhi. However, Sharma and Nath didn’t look concerned about their televised visit rupturing anyone’s ego. Nor did they mind the efforts of some quarters to project the visits as part of Congress efforts towards opposition unity.

However, after the Trinamool Congress publicised their leader’s engagements for the day, the AICC establishment betrayed its anxiety by including Sharma too to address the official press conference for the day. Since 23 leaders sought change in the AICC, there have been only rare instances when they were allowed to address the AICC’s formal daily news conference. Sharma obliged, but later went to meet Banerjee with a bouquet.

“Mamata Banerjee and I have worked together since our Youth Congress days (Sharma was IYC national president and Banerjee a national general secretary) and we have a lot of mutual respect. I told her that she has achieved what the entire secular and progressive India was praying for: Stopping the BJP juggernaut. I personally congratulated her as it was her first visit to Delhi since the marvelous victory,” Sharma told ET. “We had very constructive talks on many national issues, including Pegasus, constitutional and other crises India faces and also on the need for all democratic and secular parties to jointly face the crisis. We have always been in touch and would continue to do so,” Sharma said.

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The change seekers in their letter to Sonia Gandhi had suggested that AICC should take the initiative to unite “all former Congress leaders.” Sharma had also openly opposed AICC’s decision to tieup with the Left and ISF against Trinamool in West Bengal.

Nath said he invited Banerjee to visit Bhopal. “Since our youth Congress days, Mamata and I have shared a warm relationship. I congratulated her for Trinamool’s electoral victory, invited her to visit Bhopal and told her the people of Madhya Pradesh, like the rest of the country, were very keen to see her and hear her, especially after her huge victory against BJP,” Nath told ET. On whether he discussed the issue of uniting the opposition, he said: “Yes, I touched upon the issue of unity of anti-BJP parties and I also told her that any opposition front against BJP should include Congress. She was in agreement.”

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