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Sharad Pawar is Rahul Gandhi’s First Stop in Wresting Oppn Limelight Back from SP-BSP

Rahul Gandhi’s Wednesday night meeting with Sharad Pawar assumes significance in the wake of jostling within non-NDA parties to assume leadership of the opposition front.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18_pallavighosh

Updated:March 15, 2018, 12:57 PM IST
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Sharad Pawar is Rahul Gandhi’s First Stop in Wresting Oppn Limelight Back from SP-BSP
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with NCP leader Sharad Pawar and party colleague Mallikarjun Kharge at the Tuesday night dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi. (Photo tweeted by @OfficeOfRG)
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New Delhi: In what is being seen as the first step towards managing political alliances ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi held a late-night meeting with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in the national capital on Wednesday.

The two leaders are reported to have discussed firming up the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra, even as attempts to stitch a larger anti-BJP front at the national level gain momentum.

The meeting assumes significance in the wake of jostling within non-NDA parties to assume leadership of the opposition front. Two former Congress partners — Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee — have had reservations about accepting Rahul's leadership of the UPA. The two regional satraps from the Congress stable have been comfortable in dealing with Sonia Gandhi instead.

Sonia, therefore, continues to lead the Congress Parliamentary Party and the UPA despite having handed over the reins of the organisation to son Rahul late last year.

Also, the Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypoll victories of the Samajwadi Party-BSP combine have confirmed one of the worst fears of the Congress — that a united opposition front minus the Congress has shown the resilience and tenacity to take on the BJP.

As preparations begin for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the opposition has tasted blood in these bypoll victories. Seeing the writing on the wall, Sonia Gandhi hosted dinner for leaders of 20 opposition parties on Tuesday night. The dinner offered an opportunity to make the point that the Congress can be the fulcrum for this opposition front.



But the Congress has once again shown that it lacks in political strategy and in gauging the timing.

As a Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh said, “It was very silly to contest in Phulpur. We should have withdrawn our candidate.”

It’s in this backdrop that the Pawar-Rahul meeting assumes significance. Pawar has been open about the fact that while he could accept Sonia as the UPA chairperson, it wouldn't be possible for him to see Rahul in her place.

After BJP’s win in Tripura, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, too, rued the missed opportunity by the Congress to respond to her call for an alliance to take on the BJP in West Bengal. It was a veiled attack questioning Rahul’s ability to devise electoral strategy to effectively challenge the BJP.

While Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, took to Twitter to celebrate the BJP's loss in UP, a key point which cannot be overlooked is that Congress candidates lost their deposits.

As a national party, the Congress is caught in a dilemma. It cannot let the regional satraps call the shots. It has to assert its identity as it learns to work with smaller parties in states where it has lost support base over the years.
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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