- Yashwant Sinha had asked Sharad Pawar to meet his "Rashtra Manch" members
- Praful Patel, a member of NCP, distanced the party from the gathering
- Besides politicians, eminent people from various fields have been invited
Veteran politician Sharad Pawar is "not hosting a third front meeting" today, it was clarified hours before what now appears to be a gathering of politicians and intellectuals to "debate current events".
Those associated with the event were at pains this morning to clarify that the gathering has nothing to do with putting together a Third Front to fight Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP in the 2024 election.
They said it was former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP leader who recently joined the Trinamool Congress, who had asked Sharad Pawar to meet members of his "Rashtra Manch", a political action group he set up in 2018.
"Yashwant Sinha heads the Rashtra Manch. He asked to meet with Mr Pawar. So the meeting is an initiative of the Rashtra Manch," said Praful Patel, a member of Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), distancing the party from the gathering.
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.
Besides politicians, "eminent people from various fields" have been invited to the gathering, which diminishes the political heft that it was accorded at first, when the news broke.
Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut said: "I don't believe this is an opposition gathering because it doesn't have Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, BSP and Chandrababu Naidu. Maybe this is the first initiative to bring the opposition together."
The Manch, which meets regularly, has an open-ended membership, said ex-Janata Dal United leader Pavan Varma, one of its regulars. "We invite members from different parties and walks of life, except the BJP," Mr Varma said.
The invitees include senior advocate KTS Tulsi, former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi, former ambassador KC Singh, lyricist Javed Akhtar, filmmaker Pritish Nandy, senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves, media personalities Karan Thapar and Ashutosh, said NCP leader Nawab Mallik.
National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, who is also invited, said his son Omar Abdullah would attend the meet.
One reason the meeting captured so much political attention yesterday was Mr Pawar's talks with ace poll strategist Prashant Kishor just before the details came out. This was their second meeting in two weeks and there was furious speculation that a third front was in the making. Mr Pawar is known for his networking skills and has helped cobble many an unlikely coalition.
But hours later, Prashant Kishor distanced himself from the meeting and ruled out any association with an opposition front to take on the BJP in the next general election.
"I don't believe a Third or Fourth Front could emerge as a successfully challenge to the current dispensation," he told NDTV, adding that the 'tried and tested' Third Front model was archaic and not suited to the current political dynamic.
That effectively confirmed that today's meeting had nothing to do with any strategy talks the two may have had.
Mr Kishor said his one-on-one meetings with the NCP chief were for both men to get to know each other better. They had hardcore political discussions, going state-by-state to explore the possibility of what will work in the fight against the BJP and what won't, according to the master strategist.
Mr Kishor, who helped craft Mamata Banerjee's successful Bengal election campaign, said her victory sent a message to all opposition parties that "they too can stand up to the BJP and give them a contest".