TERMING HER meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday as a “courtesy visit”, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she raised two issues: supply of more vaccines and the longstanding demand for changing the state’s name to ‘Bangla’.
But, speaking to reporters after her 4 pm meeting, Banerjee raised another issue. Speaking on the Pegasus snooping controversy, she said the PM should call an all-party meeting, take all opinions on board, and announce a Supreme Court-aided probe.
On Monday, Banerjee had announced an inquiry into the issue, by a commission comprising retired Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur, and former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, Justice (retd) Jyotirmay Bhattacharya.
This was Banerjee’s first meeting with Modi after winning the West Bengal Assembly elections. “I had sought time from the PM because, after winning the elections for the third time with the blessings of the people of West Bengal, I had not got the opportunity to meet the PM and President… I have come to Delhi after two years… It is a courtesy visit. After elections, you have to meet at least once,” she said.
“I discussed the Covid situation. I said we need more vaccines and medicines. I have no problem with other states also getting (vaccines), but, according to our population share, we have got much less than other states,” she said. “Our vaccination progress is very good and our (positivity) rate is now around 1 per cent. But we want to get everyone vaccinated before the third wave,” she said.
“I also discussed the issue of changing the state’s name to Bangla… he said he would look at it,” she said.
Banerjee indicated that many political leaders and non-politicians had sought time to meet her over the next few days, signalling that she is keen to play a national role.
Ahead of her meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday, she met senior Congress leaders Anand Sharma, Kamal Nath and Abhishek Manu Singhvi on Tuesday.
On her scheduled meetings with Opposition leaders, Banerjee said she was meeting many “old friends”. “There are many parties which are old friends of mine… Kamal Nathiji, Anand Sharmaji came. We talked about old days and new days together. Tomorrow, Soniaji has called me for tea. So I will go for a chai pe charcha,” she said.
Banerjee indicated that she would meet Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday, as well as Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi. She said she was scheduled to meet President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday, but the meeting was running into trouble given the stipulation that she required an RT-PCR test despite being vaccinated.
Responding to a question, Banerjee said Opposition unity would emerge “automatically”. “There is still time for the Lok Sabha (elections), but planning needs to be done from before. There are the elections in UP, Punjab and Tripura. You have seen how our people were put under house arrest in Tripura… In a democracy, you should not discriminate parties. All like-minded parties must work together,” she said.
Sources said that both Sharma and Nath, during the course of their conversation, told Banerjee that any Opposition front without the Congress would be unviable.
While her ties with Sharma and Nath go back to the days when she was in the Congress, Singhvi was elected to Rajya Sabha with the support of the Trinamool Congress. Sharma and Nath, sources said, remained in touch with Banerjee despite their party fighting against her in the Assembly elections.
“We had a good exchange of views. It was very constructive and meaningful. It was great to catch up with an old colleague and friend. We exchanged our perspectives on the evolving political situation in the country… the attack on institutions… how to hold the government to account and the need to uphold Constitutional democracy. Since it was her first visit after her courageous battle and historic win, I congratulated her. It was gracious of her to invite me for tea,” Sharma said.
Sharma and Nath said Banerjee will discuss larger issues of strategy during her meeting with Sonia on Wednesday.