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Anti-BJP front in sights, Rahul Gandhi meets Sharad Pawar

Rahul Gandhi met the veteran NCP leader at the latter's residence on Wednesday. 

Anti-BJP front in sights, Rahul Gandhi meets Sharad Pawar

New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi has met NCP chief Sharad Pawar as part of efforts to reach out to leaders of like-minded parties with an aim to build an anti-BJP front ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

As per reports, Rahul met the veteran NCP leader at the latter's residence on Wednesday. 

Rahul is also scheduled to meet Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when she visits Delhi on March 28 to underscore the need for a strong alliance to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 polls.

Rahul's meeting with Pawar came a day after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's dinner for Opposition leaders that was attended by representatives of at least 20 political parties. 

The dinner took place against the backdrop of a logjam in Parliament, which has witnessed continuous disruptions since the start of the second part of the Budget Session on March 5.

Opposition leaders had on Wednesday called for a grand alliance to defeat the BJP in the 2019 polls after it was defeated in the by-polls to three Lok Sabha seats, especially in Uttar Pradesh where an alliance of arch-rivals SP and BSP sealed the saffron party's fate.

The BJP was defeated on the Gorakhpur, and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh by Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine while the Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) defeated the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) - an NDA ally - on Araria Lok Sabha seat in Bihar.

The RJD had the backing of the Congress in Bihar though in Uttar Pradesh the Congress fielded its candidates on both seats.

Buoyed by the victory, a number of opposition leaders including RJD's Tejashwi Yadav and veteran socialist leader Sharad Yadav called for a Grand Alliance at the national level to defeat the BJP.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee were quick to congratulate the victorious candidates of the opposition camp.

Although Samajwadi Party President and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav avoided a direct reply to the chances of his party forging an alliance with BSP and others for the next year's Lok Sabha polls, saying there was still time, but emphasised that the by-polls results did give a "message and a direction" to the national politics.

Gandhi, while congratulating the victorious candidates, said that the results showed the "electorate is very angry with the BJP and will vote for the non-BJP candidate most likely to win".

Tejashwi Yadav said the Samajwadi Party and the BSP should fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls together and urged the Congress to join them. 

"A Grand Alliance is the demand of time, it is the demand of the people. Keep your ego away. There is a need to teach a lesson to those who have destroyed the country," he said. 

Sharad Yadav said even "a partial unity" among opposition parties was enough to defeat the BJP. 

"The (BJP-led) government will go even if there is a partial unity among the opposition parties," he said.

Asked if the Opposition parties were chalking out unity plans ahead of the 2019 General Election, he said the "process is on" and added that the opposition unity was a "big challenge" and would take "time and honest efforts" to materialise.

Banerjee congratulated Akhilesh Yadav, BSP chief Mayawati and Lalu Prasad as the Opposition took big leads over the BJP in Lok Sabha by-elections.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that the BJP under-estimated the SP-BSP alliance that led to its defeat in the by-elections to the prestigious Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats and termed it as a lesson to the party which would do an introspection.

Reacting to the shocking defeat of the party in the seats held by him and his Deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya, he, however, expressed confidence that this would have no impact on the general elections in 2019 in which national issues will play a dominant role and it will be a vote on the performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He said local factors play a role in by-elections but in the general elections, the good performance of the Modi government and its welfare schemes will have an impact in BJP's favour. 

In Bihar, BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi downplayed the RJD's victory, saying it was the result of sympathy votes in Lalu Prasad's favour.

(With Agency inputs)