Congress leader Sonia Gandhi on Thursday called for Opposition unity on issues of national importance both inside and outside Parliament as she chaired a meeting of leaders of 17 non-National Democratic Alliance parties, where the Bahujan Samaj Party was missing.
Gandhi, the Congress Parliamentary Party leader and United Progressive Alliance chairperson, told opposition leaders that they should set aside their differences on state issues and come together on national concerns to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The BSP, which has been together with other opposition parties, skipped the crucial meeting held at Parliament House library.
"We should altogether adopt a common approach and strategy both inside and outside Parliament on crucial issues concerning farmers, Dalits, youth, poor, women... There can be differences among parties in states, but there should not be differences on national issues and we should stand unitedly to create a common understanding.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said it is not possible to double farmers' income by 2022 until the agricultural growth is 12 per cent.
"The government says farmers' income will be doubled by 2022. But it's not possible until the agricultural growth is 12 per cent. Until we achieve that ... It is just a hollow assurance," Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad quoted Singh as saying after the meeting of opposition parties.
"The fiscal deficit seems to have increased," the former prime minister said.
Earlier in the day, Singh said it was to be seen how the government would fulfill its promises.
"I do not think I can blame the budget for being motivated by scoring points in elections, but what worries me is that the fiscal arithmatic is at fault," he told NDTV.
When questioned if the budget was reform-oriented, the former PM said the word reform has been used and abused too many times.
"I don’t want to comment on it," he said, asking whether the farm crisis is a thing of the past and if not, what is the strategy to deal with it.
"We have to be alert on the violence being spread over religion and caste and many other issues that are of national concern and we all have to come together leaving aside differences," senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad quoted Sonia Gandhi as saying at the meeting.
"We have to work together on various issues of national importance... We have to be very careful as far as ideology of hate is concerned and there are rampant incidents of violence across caste and communities. Constitutional institutions are being undermined," Sonia Gandhi was quoted as saying.
She also said that while Aadhaar was a good idea initiated by the UPA government, 'the present government is using this as a tool to breach privacy' and the economic health of the country 'remains precarious'.
This is the first time Sonia Gandhi led an opposition meet after handing over the baton of Congress president to her son Rahul Gandhi.
She also sought to garner support of opposition parties to put up a united front to plan a joint strategy for the ongoing Budget Session of Parliament and work towards larger opposition unity to take on the BJP in upcoming polls.
Leaders of various opposition parties congratulated Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for the victory in Rajasthan bypolls and for making a good beginning.
"Everyone was keen to see its logical conclusion," Azad said.
Asked if today's meeting was the beginning of forming UPA-3, he said, 'I will not say UPA-3' as an alliance would have had a common minimum programme.
The meeting, held at the Parliament Library Building, is seen as part of efforts to galvanise support of all 17 parties most of which had come together during the presidential and vice presidential polls against the ruling party.
Rahul also stressed on the point that while there may be differences among some parties in different states, these should be resolved amicably among different constituents and remain united on national issues.
It was also discussed at the meeting that it was natural for those parties who are not part of the government and did not believe in NDA ideology to come together under one front to take on the NDA.
Top leaders who attended the meeting included former prime minister Manmohan Singh, senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, Trinamool Congress's Derek O'Brien, Communist Party of India's national secretary D Raja, Samajwadi Party's Ramgopal Yadav and Naresh Agrawal, besides Communist Party of India-Marxist's Mohammed Salim and T K Rangarajan.
Janata Dal-Secular leader Kupendra Reddy, breakaway Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav, Rashtriya Lok Dal's Ajit Singh, Rashtriya Janata Dal's Misa Bharati and Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's T K S Elangovan, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Sanjiv Kumar, All India United Democratic Front's Badruddin Ajmal, Kerala Congress's Joy Abrahim, Indian Union Muslim League's P K Kunhalikutti and Revolutionary Socialist Party's N K Premchandran were also present.
Sonia Gandhi continues to be the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party and the UPA.
Many other crucial issues like the attack on the Constitution and recent communal clashes in Uttar Pradesh were also discussed during the meeting.
The meeting came three days after Pawar hosted some opposition leaders for tea at his residence in New Delhi.
That meeting had skeletal opposition presence and it was therefore decided to hold another larger one post the Budget presentation.
Pawar had also met Sonia and Rahul Gandhi that day after the president's address to the joint sitting of both houses of Parliament at the start of the Budget Session.
IMAGE: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh arrive for an all-opposition parties meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo