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Monday, July 26, 2021

The time is now: Reading Mamata Banerjee’s message to the Opposition

Mamata Banerjee, who is among the country’s seniormost Opposition leaders, is riding high after her sweeping victory over the BJP in what was the most challenging election of her life to become Chief Minister for the third time.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: July 26, 2021 11:23:49 am
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee during a press conference at the state secretariat Nabanna, in Kolkata. (PTI)

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday (July 21) urged all Opposition parties to unite to defeat the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.

Banerjee, while addressing party workers and leaders during the Trinamool Congress’s annual Martyrs’ Day rally in Kolkata, targeted the Centre over a host of issues including the alleged surveillance of politicians, journalists, activists, etc. using the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware.

Banerjee, who is among the country’s seniormost Opposition leaders, is riding high after her sweeping victory over the BJP in what was the most challenging election of her life to become Chief Minister for the third time.

Since then, she has given clear indications that she intends to play a role in national politics, and to take on the BJP and its leaders in a range of ways.

‘There’s no time to waste’

Senior Opposition leaders such as Sharad Pawar and Supriya Sule (NCP), P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh (Congress), Ram Gopal Yadav and Jaya Bachchan (SP), Manoj Jha (RJD), Tiruchi Siva (DMK), Sanjay Singh (AAP), and K Keshava Rao (TRS), were among those present at the Constitution Club in New Delhi where her address was broadcast live by her party.

TMC workers attend a virtual rally address by CM Mamata Banerjee to observe Martyr’s day in Kolkata.

Her Martyrs’ Day speech was made available in various states including Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Tripura, and Delhi.

Banerjee’s clear message to Opposition parties, especially the regional forces, was to sort out their differences and to start preparing for 2024.

She had made an effort to forge a third front ahead of the 2019 general elections as well, but no strong unity could be forged among the regional parties. The Opposition also lacked a face to pit against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This time, Banerjee has started early — three years before Lok Sabha elections are scheduled. There was no point scrambling to cobble together an alliance at the last moment without first chalking out a plan of action and strategy, she said in her speech.

“Nothing can be done by a doctor who comes after the patient has died. The patient can be saved if treatment is given on time. Now is your time. The more time you waste the more the situation will worsen,” Banerjee said.

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Outreach to Opposition parties

In the latest rejig of the party structure, she has made her nephew and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee the TMC’s all-India general secretary. The position gives Abhishek the opportunity to play a key role in forging ties with other regional players.

In June, the TMC extended its association with election strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-Pac until the next elections to the state Assembly in 2026, with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections of 2024 in the middle. West Bengal’s 42 seats can be crucial for both the TMC and the BJP; the BJP won 18 seats in 2019, and the TMC 22.

Soon afterward, Kishor organised a meeting of Opposition leaders at Pawar’s residence in New Delhi, and later met Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

Senior TMC leaders Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Derek O’Brien have been trying to coordinate between the TMC and other Opposition parties in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively, to put up a united fight against the Narendra Modi government on the floor of Parliament.

TMC workers attend a virtual rally address by CM Mamata Banerjee to observe Martyr’s day in Kolkata.

And in a bid to strengthen Opposition unity, Banerjee will be in Delhi herself for 3-4 days later this month. She is likely to meet Opposition leaders including Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, NCP chief Pawar, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal.

Taking the fight to the BJP

Banerjee has also been looking to revive her party’s units in Tripura and Uttar Pradesh. The TMC is seriously considering entering the Assembly election in Tripura in 2023 as the main challenger of the BJP, which had swept the state in 2018.

These efforts are intended to increase the heat on the BJP and central government, which are under pressure due to mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis, rising prices of auto fuel, the long-running protest by farmers, and now, the Pegasus snooping allegations.

To put further pressure on the Centre, Banerjee on Wednesday appealed to the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognizance of the alleged surveillance, or to form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the matter.

Her presence in the national capital during Parliament’s Monsoon Session is likely to give confidence to her party leaders and boost the morale of the Opposition.

In her speech, Banerjee took her party’s winning “Khela Hobe” (Game On) slogan to the national stage — and declared that “Khela” would happen in all states before the 2024 elections. The use of the slogan is intended to simultaneously underline to the Opposition that it was possible to defeat the BJP everywhere, and to remind the BJP of its humiliation in Bengal, an election in which Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah personally led the party’s campaign.

“The BJP took India to darkness. ‘Khela’ will happen in all states until BJP is removed from the country. “Khela aabaar hobe (the game will take place again), aar jeta hobe (and we will win),” Banerjee said.

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