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Budget session: Resurgent NDA
to face united opposition

Shahid K Abbas in New Delhi | February 16, 2003 23:30 IST

Efforts to put up a united front against a resurgent BJP-led National Democratic Alliance were off to a good start with the entire opposition turning up for a dinner meeting hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to decide on the strategy to be adopted during the Budget session of Parliament, which begins on Monday.

The session comes just days before assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland, scheduled for February 26.

Among those present were two known detractors of Sonia Gandhi Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

This was Pawar's first visit to her Sonia Gandhi's residence after May 1999, when he broke away from the Congress on the issue of her foreign origins.

The main issue the opposition parties plans to raise is that of Ayodhya, followed by divestment, specifically that of BPCL and HPCL.

While Yadav and the Left parties said the opposition would bring an adjournment motion on the Ayodhya issue, the Congress was not forthcoming.

"We are going to bring in an adjournment motion on the Ayodhya issue as we see a connivance between the government and the VHP on this issue. We expect the support of all the non-BJP opposition parties on this issue," CPI-M Lok Sabha member Hannan Mollah told

This was the line taken by Yadav too when he spoke to reporters after the dinner meeting.

However, Congress spokesman S Jaipal Reddy said, "We will not be able to divulge our strategy."

The other issues would be the lack of a firm foreign policy, specially in the wake of the threat of a US-UK attack on Iraq, 'shady deals' in the defence sector, closure of fertilizer units, failure to act on the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the stock market scam, the government's policy on agriculture pricing and procurement and attempts to introduce changes in labour laws.

However, the mood in the NDA is upbeat in the wake of the BJP's convincing victory in the Gujarat assembly polls. This is expected to be used to counter the opposition's efforts to divide the NDA on the Ram temple issue.

The opposition is banking on the fact that non-BJP parties' participation in the ruling coalition is based on a common minimum agenda that strictly excludes Ayodhya or any other communal issue.

The Samajwadi Party is expected to raise the issue of implementation of POTA in Uttar Pradesh. Even BJP leaders have opposed Chief Minister Mayawati's decision to impose the anti-terrorism law against independent MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh and his father, despite being part of the ruling coalition in the state.

"There is no need to impose an act like POTA in UP. It is being misused by the chief minister to ensure the survival of her government," sources in the SP told

Those present at Sonia Gandhi's dinner meeting were former prime ministers Chandra Shekhar and H D Deve Gowda (Janata Dal-S), RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav, his party colleague Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, CPI-M veteran Somnath Chatterjee, Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh, CPI's Ajay Chakravarti, Lok Jan Shakti's Ram Vilas Paswan, IUML's G M Banatwala and E Ahmad, and Prakash Ambedkar and Ramdas Athawale (representing the two RPI factions).

Senior leaders Manmohan Singh, Shivraj Patil, P R Dasmunshi and Jaipal Reddy were among the Congress leaders present on the occasion.

Earlier in the day, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to discuss several issues that the government expects would be raked up by the opposition during the Budget session.

At last week's Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security, Naidu's TDP had made it clear that whipping up the Ram temple issue ahead of elections would not help any political party.

With inputs from PTI

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