After Sibal, Sonia Gandhi to Host Dinner; On Menu is Opposition Unity, Snub to G23
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After Sibal, Sonia Gandhi to Host Dinner; On Menu is Opposition Unity, Snub to G23


Two days after senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal hosted a gala dinner for the bigwigs of the opposition, party president Sonia Gandhi will now host a similar event, albeit virtually, on August 20 — not just to cobble up an opposition unity for ‘Mission 2024’, but also to send a message to the dissenting party members, popularly known as the G-23.

The two dinners have, however, made the Congress look disunited. Days before Sibal’s delectable dinner event, where the guests were fed food bought from old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, Rahul Gandhi had hosted a breakfast meeting for the opposition.

Sibal’s dinner was attended by even those parties, which do not usually align with the opposition at the Centre — such as Andhra Pradesh’s YSR Congress Party and Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal. Sibal said it was possible only because of his personal rapport with the leaders of these parties. In many ways, Sibal’s dinner was seen as a snub to the Gandhis.

And to send a counter message, Sonia Gandhi is hosting a dinner next week. Certainly, the effort is to establish a solid opposition unity to take on the BJP juggernaut, but it’s also more about sending a counter message to the G-23 leaders. Sibal is one of the most aggressive faces of the G-23 — the group that had written a letter to Sonia Gandhi last August, calling for a complete overhaul.

Who all to attend Sonia’s dinner?

Sonia Gandhi’s virtual dinner will be attended by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has already confirmed her attendance. RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, among others, are also likely to attend.

On the menu will be the discussion about how the Gandhis alone can take a final call to decide the contours of an opposition unity for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections — this was also discussed at Sibal’s dinner.

So far, it’s unlikely that anyone from the G-23 would be invited to the dinner. However, some loyalists of the Gandhi family have been asked to be present.

Sources say this is not likely to be the only dinner that Sonia or the Gandhis may have planned. This is because the Congress high command not just aims to defeat the BJP, but also plans to teach the dissenting party leaders a lesson to make them fall in line.

But the G-23 members too are planning similar meals. Sources say they are making it clear that their purpose is not to challenge the Gandhis, but to ensure that the Congress changes the way it functions and becomes a strong force to lead the opposition. But it seems, the dinner by Sibal has given indigestion to the Gandhi loyalists.

A lot can happen over food & tea in politics

The dinner politics playing out in the Congress is reminiscent of some important events in the past where food or tea played an integral part in giving shape to political agreements or even breaking the ice between political enemies. Sample these events:

It was at a tea party hosted by BJP leader Subramanium Swamy that the plot to overthrow the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was hatched. In attendance were late Tamil Nadu CM J. Jayalalithaa and Sonia Gandhi herself, among others. During a vote of confidence, which took place a few days later, the Vajpayee government fell by just a single vote.

This apart, the bitter relation between the DMK and the Congress also softened over a cup of tea. Senior Congress leader Kamal Nath had reached out to the DMK, despite the fact that the Gandhis blamed the southern party for going slow in punishing the assassins of Sonia’s husband and former PM Rajiv Gandhi. But later, the ties between the two parties improved to such an extent that the DMK remained one of the most loyal allies of the Congress.

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