As part of her efforts to create a pan-India anti-BJP front, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is likely to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal subsequently. Finding a common Opposition candidate for the upcoming Presidential elections is likely to be the main issue in Banerjee’s discussions with Sonia. The Congress chief has met leaders of several parties in the last few weeks to discuss the possibility of a joint candidate.
Banerjee, who is likely to come on Monday evening, had similarly arrived in Delhi five years ago — to make a bid for A P J Abdul Kalam as the candidate for President. “But she had burnt her fingers last time,” a source said. “This time, she is less vocal, more careful. The meeting with Sonia is important to know the Congress’s stand on the issue.” Although Banerjee is “still soft” on a second term for Pranab Mukherjee, there is a conscious attempt by her party, the TMC, to try and gather other opposition parties against the BJP on a common platform,” the source said. “That is where Kejriwal, whose party is in power in Delhi, and the main opposition in Punjab, is important,” the leader added.
Sources said Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was drubbed in recent elections to Punjab and Goa Assemblies, as well as the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, had called up Banerjee and sought a meeting. While the two CMs are likely to discuss federal politics and alleged interference by Governors, issues which both Banerjee and Kejriwal have been vocal about, a source in AAP said, “It is likely that this meeting will be key in AAP’s planning for future.” After the series of electoral upsets, AAP had stated its plans to focus on governance in Delhi while opting out of earlier plans to contest the Gujarat elections, coming up later this year.
Kejriwal, who had invited Banerjee to share the dais to take on the Prime Minister’s move to demonetise high-value currencies in November last year, had first met her in August 2015 at her nephew and Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee’s residence. “During that meeting Mamata had given Kejriwal advice on dealing with the state of affairs regarding federal politics. In particular, she had stressed on the need for AAP to not take on both the Congress and BJP at the same time,” a source in TMC said.
Addressing the media subsequently, Kejriwal had called it a “wonderful meeting (with) Mamata didi” and that he has a “lot to learn” from her, something TMC leaders do not believe the Delhi CM has lived up to. “The problem is two-fold,” a senior TMC leader said. “First, he (Kejriwal) underestimated the Congress, and second, he took on the Congress and BJP together. That is not tenable in a country like ours.”