- The meeting featured 8 parties including Trinamool, AAP and the Left
- The meet was called by Yashwant Sinha,not Sharad Pawar, a NCP leader said
- The Congress was missing from the gathering
A meeting on Tuesday at veteran politician Sharad Pawar's house, 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 Mr Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and a founding member of the Rashtra Manch. 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," Mr Memon asserted, when reporters asked why the Congress was MIA 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 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.
While no Congress leader showed up, senior leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath met with Mr Pawar separately.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, asked about the meeting and possible efforts to form a Third Front, said it was not the time to discuss politics. At his virtual press conference on his party's Covid White Paper, Mr Gandhi said he wanted to focus on the COVID-19 situation and how to save the country from a potential third wave.
With Mr 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 Mr 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.
The speculation intensified when the meeting was linked to Mr Pawar's meeting with ace poll strategist Prashant Kishor earlier yesterday.
This was their second meeting in two weeks. But hours later, Prashant Kishor distanced himself from Tuesday's 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.