However, it was the absence of key Mahagathbandhan allies such as BSP supremo Mayawati, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, which drew the attention of political pundits amid the Congress party’s efforts to cobble together an anti-BJP alliance ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The leaders who took part in the crowning of Nath at the mega BHEL Jumboorrie Maidan included Congress president Rahul Gandhi, former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and HD Deve Gowda, former Union minister and Lok Sabha member Mallikarjun Kharge, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, cricketer-turned-Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, ex-MP chief minister Digvijaya Singh, former J&K CM Farooq Abdullah and UP Congress chief Raj Babbar. Newly sworn in Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, his deputy Sachin Pilot and RJD leader and ex-deputy CM of Bihar Tejashwi Yadav also attended the event.
The opposition leaders in attendance were Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, his Andhra Pradesh counterpart N Chandrababu Naidu, DMK chief MK Stalin, JMM leader Hemant Soren and Loktantrik Janta Dal leader Sharad Yadav.
The Congress, which had extended the invitation to all major political players, was hoping to project the event as another step towards opposition unity. However, the absence of Mayawati and Yadav, who even extended support to Nath for forming the government after the Congress failed to cross the halfway mark (115) on its own, raised eyebrows in political circles. Mayawati had earlier snubbed the Congress for not giving it a respectable share of seats and decided to go with Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh.
So far as Banerjee is concerned, several sources have said that the West Bengal CM was miffed with Stalin for projecting Gandhi as the prime ministerial face of the alliance. Stalin had proposed the Congress chief’s name to defeat the “fascist Modi govt” but several opposition leaders were not too impressed with the “premature” announcement. On Monday, a TMC leader said the party felt Stalin should have waited until after the Lok Sabha elections for a consensus on the issue. Banerjee, however, sent her representative Dinesh Trivedi to the function.
While there may seem to be fissures in the Opposition unity, political rivals Nath and his predecessor Shivraj Singh Chouhan held hands on stage as Chouhan handed over the baton to the veteran Congress leader. Former BJP chief ministers, including Babulal Gaur and Kailash Joshi, were also present on stage and in a moving gesture, senior Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh and Arun Yadav, touched the feet of Joshi as a mark of respect.