PM reaches out to BJP, invites top party leaders to dinner today


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday invited senior BJP leader L K Advani and the leaders of opposition in Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, for dinner in an attempt to reach out to the opposition days before Parliament's winter session, which is expected to be tumultuous.

The invitation for dinner on Saturday is part of the dinner and lunch diplomacy Singh has initiated over the last few days, breaking bread with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati and a dinner for leaders of UPA partners Friday evening.

Government sources said it was reassuring that all allies attended the dinner and Singh discussed the strategy in Parliament with them. The allies are believed to have told the government that they did not want to vote in the house after a discussion on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail and the government should do its best to prevent such a situation from arising.

At the same time, they also assured the government that they would stand by it if opposition parties moved a no-confidence motion, the sources said. It is for the speaker to decide whether an executive decision can be voted upon in the house and the grounds seem to favour the government on this, they added.

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, defence minister A K Antony, finance minister P Chidambaram and home minister Sushilkumar Shinde attended the dinner. Allies who were present included the DMK's T R Baalu, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, the NCP's Praful Patel, RLD leader Ajit Singh and the IUML's E Ahamed.

The PM's dinner with the BJP top brass was more important given the main opposition's aggressive posturing, the sources said. They, however, expressed confidence that everyone will come on board as no party wants early elections.

"Only Mamata Banerjee seems to be enthusiastic about voting as she wants early elections. How many parties want the government to fall and face a fresh election? Anyway, we have the majority and we are ready for any eventuality," a government source said.

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