NEW DELHI / PATNA : Congress president Sonia Gandhi will not be attending Lalu Prasad Yadav’s anti-BJP rally ‘Desh Bachao, Bhajpa Bhagao’ on August 27 in Patna. The Congress said today that neither Sonia Gandhi, who is party chief, nor her son Rahul Gandhi, who is Vice President, will appear at the rally which will target PM Modi and his policies. Instead, the party said, Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior leader, will read out a statement for the occasion on Sonia Gandhi’s behalf.
Ashok Choudhary, who heads the Congress in Bihar, said, “The party high command has taken a decision so we have nothing more to add. But this is a rally by Lalu’s party, so there really isn’t much for us to contribute apart from our leaders’ attendance.”
The RJD chief said on Wednesday that senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and CP Joshi would attend the rally with a message from Sonia. Asked about the chances of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi attending the event, Prasad said, “He could also be there.”
On the other hand, he claimed that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and rebel JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav would attend the RJD rally. On Mayawati’s absence, the Lalu said it was not a “setback”. “I had a talk with Mayawati. She said senior BSP leader Satish Mishra would come for the rally .
At the time of announcing the ‘oust BJP rally’ at the Gandhi Maidan, the RJD chief had said that he would bring Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav together on one platform, which would mean the “end of the match for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls”.
Back then, JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar was in the Grand Alliance, also comprising the RJD and the Congress and Prasad, while heralding his coming together with Kumar in Bihar, had said joining hands by the SP and the BSP – the two arch rivals in Uttar Pradesh – would spell doom for the BJP in the next General Election.
Asked about Kumar’s and JD(U) principal general secretary KC Tyagi’s comments that if Sharad Yadav attends the RJD rally against the party line, he would lose his Rajya Sabha membership, the RJD chief claimed that there was no such provision, as per PTI. “Is there any provision like this in any party? Political party leaders attend rallies organised by others. It does not come under the anti-defection law,” he said.
As the Congress in Bihar was worried that the presence of either of its top two leaders would do the party more harm than good. The party is meant to serve as the chassis of the united opposition league that hopes to combine against Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prevent his re-election; but Lalu Yadav and his children are woven into a matrix of corruption cases right now, and the prospect of either Sonia or Rahul Gandhi getting top billing at an event hosted by him had some in the party breaking into a cold sweat.
The Congress had earlier indicated that it would be represented by Rahul Gandhi in Patna. Lalu Yadav is a long-time supporter of Sonia Gandhi, but his relationship with her son has been less amicable. In 2013, when the Congress-led government was ready to introduce an ordinance to protect Lalu Yadav, then newly convicted in one of several cases of corruption, Rahul Gandhi publicly tore up the executive order that would have sidelined Supreme Court rules and allowed the Bihar heavyweight to remain an MP despite his conviction.
With the Gandhis declining the invite for the Patna rally, the opposition’s vulnerability in working as an effective, anti-BJP machine is once again on fleek -and well before it has recovered from the departure of Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister, who helped forge the combine only to exit it last month for a renewal of vows with the BJP, with whom he now runs Bihar. Sharad Pawar, seen as another contender for switching sides, has not yet confirmed whether his party will show up.