What was behind Sonia Gandhi’s invitation to opposition parties to a tea party on May 23? Apparently, the effort was to forestall invitations by others and ensure the Congress had the initiative. The first attempt to create a common front was taken by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader Chandrababu Naidu, who reached out to all non-BJP parties including the Congress to hold a meeting on May 21 to address a strategy on May 23 .
However, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was markedly unenthusiastic about the meeting, informing Naidu that she would have to stay confined to the state to prevent any mischief while counting.
Naidu’s intention was to act as an honest broker — he firmly believes that he is the only one who can persuade both Mamata and the Congress to the come to sit at the same table. He shared his ideas over a phone call to other Opposition leaders, including DMK’s Stalin, JDS’ Kumaraswamy and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav. Naidu even suggested that opposition leaders should meet President Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to consider 22 parties as a single bloc, while inviting the single largest group — rather than a party — to form the government in the case of a hung Lok Sabha.
However, Mamata’s irritation with the Congress (which has put up candidates in every constituency that has a sizeable Muslim population, thus cutting into the TMC’s votes) is palpable and she really doesn’t want to share a platform with the party that, in her view, is enabling a BJP victory.
Hence Sonia Gandhi’s decision to step in. Gandhi believes Mamata will not be able to say ‘no’ to her.