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

Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday invited senior BJP leader L K Advani as well as the two leaders of opposition, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, for dinner in a rare attempt to reach out to the opposition days before the winter session of parliament that 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 this evening. Singh will seek the opposition's cooperation to push the government's legislative business when he meets the BJP leaders. 

He is also expected to engage them on the economic reform agenda, particularly FDI in multi-brand retail on which the BJP does not have any ideological differences with the Congress.

While accepting the invitation, the BJP, however, is unlikely to show any leeway to the government and climb down from its plan to corner the government. Singh's meeting with the BJP leadership as also his talks with parties supporting from outside is seen as an indication of the UPA's new-found willingness to reach out and engage with parties outside the UPA to steer its reform agenda. The dinner diplomacy will also deny the main opposition an opportunity to claim that it was not consulted.

With the SP and BSP yet to reveal their cards, the immediate concern for the government - which survives on a razor-thin majority after the Trinamool Congress walked out - still is plans by parties to seek a discussion and a vote in both houses of Parliament on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail. 

The BJP has convened a meeting of its parliamentary party executive on November 20 to decide its strategy although NDA convenor Sharad Yadav has declared that the session will not be washed out. Despite the BJP's aggressive posture against FDI in multi-brand retail, signals from the NDA convenor and the Left suggest that non-BJP opposition parties may not push this beyond a point.

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