Updated: December 2, 2021 8:03:45 am
Declaring that “there is no UPA now” and it will be “very easy to defeat the BJP” if “all regional parties are together”, Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took a swipe at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday when she said “you can’t be abroad most of the time”.
Banerjee met NCP chief Sharad Pawar at his Silver Oak residence in South Mumbai and they spoke to the media later. “There is an environment of fascism in the country today. A strong alternative needs to be given against it. Nobody can do it alone. Those who are strong should be taken together,” she said.
Asked whether Pawar would lead the UPA, she said: “What UPA? There is no UPA now. We will decide on it together.”
To a query whether the “alternative” would exclude the Congress, she said: “What Sharadji said is that there should be a strong alternative of those who fight. What do we do if one is not fighting? We feel that everyone should fight on the field.”
Pleased to meet Hon’ble CM of West Bengal Smt @MamataOfficial at my Mumbai residence. We Discussed various issues. We agreed upon the need to strengthen the collective efforts and commitment towards safeguarding democratic values and ensuring the betterment of our people. pic.twitter.com/ryrVH2hD6N
— Sharad Pawar (@PawarSpeaks) December 1, 2021
Pawar, whose party is part of the ruling MVA with the Shiv Sena and Congress, said: “Our thinking is not for today but for the 2024 elections and this platform has to be established for it. With that intention, she visited and had a very positive discussion with all of us… There is no question of excluding anyone. All those who are against the BJP are welcome to join us… The point is to take everyone together. Those who are ready to work hard, ready to work with everyone, should be taken along.”
“The leadership is not an important issue for us. Providing a strong and credible platform to the people is important for us. The question of who will lead it is a secondary matter,” he said.
A day earlier, Banerjee had met Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra minister Aaditya Thackeray and Sena MP Sanjay Raut. “I could not meet Uddhav (Thackeray) due to his ill-health but I pray to God for his speedy recovery,” she said.
Earlier, during an interaction with civil society members at the Yashwantrao Chavan Centre, she said her party will not fight elections wherever regional parties are strong. “If all the regional parties are together, then it is very easy to defeat the BJP,” she said.
Taking a dig at Rahul Gandhi, she said, “You can’t be abroad most of the time. Continuous endeavour is necessary in politics.”
Those present there included lyricist Javed Akhtar, film maker Mahesh Bhatt, social activist Medha Patkar, actor Swara Bhaskar.
To a query on whether she would lead the Opposition alliance against the BJP, Banerjee said she is a “small worker” and wants to continue being one.
She said laws like the UAPA were being “misused” in the country. “The UAPA is for internal security and protection from external forces. The UAPA is being misused like anything. The I-T department, CBI, ED are also being misused,” she said.
“I know Maheshji (Bhatt) is victimised. Shah Rukh (Khan) is also victimised. There are many more. Some can open their mouths and some can’t. Let us not divide society. We are all one. If we really want to fight them (BJP), let us be united,” Banerjee said in response to a question from Bhatt.
“I had suggested to the Congress that there should be an advisory council comprising prominent personalities from civil society to give a direction to the Opposition, but in vain,” she said.
Swara Bhaskar, who introduced stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and pointed out Aditi Mittal, Agrima Joshua, Richa Chadha and others present in the room, said: “Common citizens are facing an unaccountable mob on one side which is being used by the ruling dispensation while the police and the state are okay with allowing it. On the other, there is a state that uses arbitrary powers and is distributing the UAPA and sedition charges like prasad… People ask why is there no Meryl Streep in India. Because Meryl Streep could stand in front of the President and critique him in the harshest way and not a hair on her head was harmed. We all are unemployable today.”
“We hope that when people like you who are in Opposition come to power, you will make sure that the rule of law and Constitution are in place even if it is to your detriment,” she said.
Banerjee later told her: “Why don’t you join politics? You are a tough and strong lady.”
Taking exception to the TMC chief’s remarks, Maharashtra Congress leaders said statements deriding the Congress meant playing into the hands of the BJP.
“No individual party can fight against the BJP if that party continues to think about its own political gain and personal ambition. The Congress is the only viable option for the country and the democracy,” said Balasaheb Thorat, revenue minister and Congress leader.
State Congress president Nana Patole said: “The Congress party under the leadership of Congress president Soniaji Gandhi and Rahulji Gandhi is constantly fighting against the dictatorial attitude of the BJP. Rahulji fought against the Modi government by standing firmly behind the farmers on the issue of land acquisition law and three farm laws.”
Senior Congress leader and PWD minister Ashok Chavan said the Congress and its leadership need no certification on its commitment to democracy and Constitution. “For the last seven years, the Central government has been using the divide-and-rule policy on Opposition parties. In such a scenario, it becomes the responsibility of all non-BJP parties in the country not to indulge in politics that supports this policy of the Centre,” he said.
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