NCP leader Praful Patel’s annual winter lunch for the media became an opportunity for opposition parties to once again showcase their bonhomie and unity of purpose to join hands against the BJP.

Patel usually invites only journalists, his boss Sharad Pawar and Pawar’s MP daughter Supriya Sule to the lunch that has become a fixture on the capital’s power calendar. Sometimes, there’s a sprinkling of other political leaders as well. But this time, the guest list was longer than usual. Patel called a representative from each of the opposition parties that are in talks for the formation of an anti-BJP front.

They all came. Among those present were BSP’s Satish Mishra, SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav and Jaya Bachchan, DMK’s Kanimozhi and Siva, Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien and Dinesh Trivedi, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D Raja, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and Lalu Yadav’s daughter Misa of the RJD.

Amid smiles and laughter, they posed for a group photograph with journalists clicking away madly on their cell phones to capture the moment. This was the opposition without the Congress.

Then there was a flurry of excitement when Ahmed Patel of the Congress turned up. Patel was late but the leaders willingly posed for another group photograph. This was the opposition with the Congress. It looks like the ball is well and truly rolling for a united opposition fight in 2019.

Not holding a brief

Congress circles are surprised and upset by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments about party lawyers stalling speedy disposal of the Ayodhya title suit.

The fact is that after December 2017, no Congress lawyer has appeared in the Supreme Court on behalf the petitioners. Yes, Kapil Sibal was arguing the case on behalf of the Muslim Personal Law Board till then. That’s when he made his controversial plea to the Court asking it to delay its judgement till after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.

His statement was used to great effect by the BJP in the Gujarat assembly campaign. The Congress then advised Sibal to recuse himself from the case.

When Sibal became one of the prime movers of the impeachment notice against the then Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, he announced that he would no longer appear in the case. That was in December 2017. So, for the past one year, no Congress lawyer has been arguing (or stalling) the hearings. That’s why the Congress was taken aback by Modi’s remark that Congress lawyers are responsible for delaying the Ayodhya judgement.

Modi had said in his New Year’s Day interview that he beseeches the Congress party to tell its lawyers not to use delaying tactics in the Ayodhya case and hold up the judgment.

Shivraj Singh Chauhan miffed 

It looks like tensions between the Modi-Shah duo and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan have intensified following the BJP’s defeat in the recent state election. Chauhan had wanted to do a statewide yatra to re-connect with the people after the polls. But a directive is believed to have come from Delhi asking him to suspend his plans for the moment.

According to those close to Chauhan, the former CM is quite upset about this. He wants to stay in MP and prepare for the next assembly election through yatras, jan sabhas, etc. He is also very active on Twitter and tweets regularly to the people of MP on all kinds of issues.

The buzz in BJP circles is that the party leadership wants to shift defeated chief ministers Chauhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh out of their states and give them responsibilities in New Delhi. But all are resisting the move. They want to stay on their states where they can reign supreme rather than become one of many fish in the Delhi ocean to be buffeted by internal politics.

Sharad Pawar, the elder statesman 

NCP boss Sharad Pawar has become active as an elder statesman. It was he who worked out a resolution to the impasse in the Rajya Sabha so that the ordinance on President’s Rule in Jammu & Kashmir could be ratified by the Upper House.

Rajya Sabha had been stalled from the very first day by AIADMK MPs on the Cauvery waters issue. No one seemed able to persuade the MPs to let the House run, including government floor managers.

Had the ordinance not been ratified by the Rajya Sabha, President’s Rule in J&K would have lapsed and the state would have had to prepare for immediate elections.

Several opposition leaders approached Pawar and requested him to use his good offices and stature as a veteran parliamentarian and leader to resolve the crisis that was brewing.

He went to the Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu’s chambers with some opposition leaders and suggested that AIADMK MPs be asked to suspend their agitation for one afternoon so that the bill could be passed.

He is believed to have offered to talk to the AIADMK parliamentary party leaders who readily agreed. They suspended their disruption and the ordinance was approved by the House, all thanks to Sharad Pawar.