In the national capital after two years to meet parties, and ostensibly to rally them for an anti-BJP coalition ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday indicated doors were also open for parties like the BJD and YSRCP, which have been on the fence when it comes to the Narendra Modi government.
Having handed the Modi-led BJP its most comprehensive electoral defeat in the West Bengal Assembly elections earlier this year, Banerjee dodged the question of who would lead such an Opposition front, while acknowledging the Congress’s importance in it. “When elections near, the Opposition parties will decide. The country will fight Narendra Modi. There will be many faces to fight against him… The BJP may be big in size, but from the political angle, the Opposition will be stronger. They will make history,” she said, in an interaction with a group of journalists, where she went out of her way to emphasise that there was no question of her dictating terms in a joint front.
Banerjee, who met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during the day, was specifically asked about the BJD and YSRCP, which have often voted with the government in Parliament. “I have good relations with Naveenji (Patnaik) and Jagan (Mohan Reddy),” she said, emphasising their importance in a future Opposition. Asked about Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, she said: “He is with the BJP right now. If he leaves the BJP, let’s see then.”
Asked what role she would like to play, Banerjee said, “I met Sonia Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal today. I spoke to Lalu Prasad Yadav yesterday. Things will emerge from the talks. There have been some discussions and there will be more concrete discussions once the Monsoon Session of Parliament gets over. Let’s see how things turn out.”
The TMC leader expressed optimism that more regional parties will take a stand in the coming days. Asked if she would also reach out to parties considered friendly to the BJP, Banerjee said: “I have good relations with Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Mohan Reddy, M K Stalin (DMK) etc. Aaj agar nahin ho sake to kal ho jayega (If it does not happen today, it can happen tomorrow). If there is a political storm, you cannot stop it.”
Adding that there was “enough time” for a common platform to fall into place, she said, “Every regional party is strong. If the regional parties are together, they will be a force… stronger than a one-party system. If there is sincerity, there will be solidarity and there will not be any division of votes.”
Banerjee played down the Congress hesitance in acknowledging the strength of regional parties, a hurdle at which many earlier plans of a joint front have fallen. Sonia Gandhi was “keen” on Opposition unity, she said. “I always had warm relations with Soniaji, ever since Rajivji’s time, I maintain that,” Banerjee said, while sidestepping a question on Rahul Gandhi.
Asked if she would be a prime ministerial aspirant, she said, “I am a public worker, I want to continue as that. I want to work not as a leader, but as a cadre.”
To a question on whether she would be seen as an outsider, Banerjee retorted: “Narendra Modi comes from Gujarat and can be an insider here. Mamata Banerjee comes from Bengal and she is considered an outsider? I am a commoner, so I can talk to everyone.”
The TMC leader, who has already announced a commission of inquiry into the alleged surveillance of phones using the Pegasus spyware, with retired Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur and others, again slammed the BJP government for not taking suo motu action on it. “In a democracy, you need to respond when there is a serious issue. This is worse than the Emergency,” the CM said.
She also attacked the Modi government over not allowing a discussion on Pegasus in Parliament while emerging from her meeting with Sonia at 10 Janpath, where Rahul was also present. Describing the meeting as “good, positive”, Mamata said, “Sonia ji invited me for a cup of tea. Rahul ji was also there. We discussed the political situation in general. We also discussed Pegasus and the Covid situation. We discussed Opposition unity… A positive result must come out.”
She said the Lok Sabha was the best place for a discussion on the snooping row. “If in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha policy decisions are not announced, if they are not discussed, where will they be discussed? This charcha does not happen over chai.”
On Thursday, Mamata will meet Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari and DMK leader Kanimozhi.
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