Gathbandhan partners Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav could be the most prominent faces of Sonia Gandhi's much talked- about May 23 meeting. Neutral players Naveen Patnaik and K Chandrashekhar Rao are also being approached.
In a bid to muster the support of old friends and lead the opposition front, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has sent letters to all key players, including former Uttar Pradesh chief ministers, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, for the May 23 meeting, the day results of the Lok Sabha elections are to be announced.
Letters have also been shot off to key allies, DMK and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for working out instant strategies to stake claim for forming the government at the Centre, in case the NDA, led by incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi falls short of the majority mark.
Among those who have confirmed their participation at the meeting are NCP's Sharad Pawar and M.K. Stalin of the DMK.
Sonia Gandhi had almost taken the back seat after Rahul Gandhi was elected President of the Congress. However, as the election results draw closer, she returns to take the leadership role to forge a grand opposition alliance which had unfortunately failed last year.
Besides neutral players such as Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and K. Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), Sonia Gandhi is eyeing the support of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav who are expected to secure big numbers if the caste chemistry of votes succeeds in the cow belt.
Party sources said that Sonia Gandhi has stepped into alliance building efforts even before the results are out. She has reportedly been in touch with both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav and also West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Despite remaining out of the pre-poll alliance (gathbandhan) in Uttar Pradesh, Congress leaders have been in constant touch with the BSP and SP leadership. During the poll campaign in UP, Rahul Gandhi chose to remain silent on Mayawati and Akhilesh while launching an open attack on the BJP and RSS.
In several seats in the state, the Congress fielded candidates from the upper castes to cut into the vote bank of the saffron party. In return, the gathbandhan did not contest Rae Bareli and Amethi, the traditional seats held by the Gandhi family. Now Sonia Gandhi's latest communique to Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav makes it evident that the gathbandhan leaders are also keen to join the UPA to consolidate opposition fraternity.
Speaking to IANS, the national spokesperson of Samajwadi Party, I.P. Singh said the gathbandhan would be the ultimate winner in Uttar Pradesh and would secure at least 60 seats making the SP-BSP alliance the biggest challenger to the BJP. "Akhileshji has the highest regard for Soniaji and our party will certainly play an important role in government formation after May 23," said Singh.
In its latest internal poll survey, SP has been expecting around 26 seats (out of 37 being contested), though it appears to be an elevated number in the wake of Prime Minister Modi's marathon rallies in the state after the second phase.
Sources said in the proposed meeting Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati would be the prominent faces besides Sharad Pawar, N. Chandrababu Naidu and M.K. Stalin who are certain to be present. Sources said Congress leaders, particularly Ahmed Patel, are also reaching out to Naveen Patnaik and K Chandrashekhar Rao. Efforts are also being made to approach YSRCP's Jaganmohan Reddy.