The rough draft of a mahagathbandhan took shape at Mamata Banerjee’s ‘United India’ rally in Kolkata on Saturday as 25 political leaders from over 20 political parties joined hands with a shared agenda of taking on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. They also agreed to take this partnership forward with more such rallies in other states and a concrete action plan in the form of a joint policy document.
While agreeing to tackle the question of the Opposition’s prime ministerial face after the election results, leader after leader targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP over “rising intolerance”, demonetisation, GST and alleged corruption in the Rafale deal.
Jammu and Kashmir National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, former prime minister and JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda, AAP leader and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, TDP leader and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, Loktantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav, DMK’s M K Stalin, AIUDF’s Badruddin Ajmal and JMM’s Hemant Soren were among those who not only shared the stage with Banerjee, but also touched upon how they could take the Opposition unity forward before the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress, represented by Mallikarjun Kharge, who read out Sonia Gandhi’s message of support, and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, too, made it clear that the party was willing to be a part of the grand alliance.
Also present on the stage were NCP leader Sharad Pawar, NC’s Omar Abdullah, Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, Patidar leader Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, former Arunachal Pradesh CM Gegong Apang, Zoram Nationalist Party leader Lalduhawma, RLD vice-president Jayant Chaudhary, BSP leader Satish Mishra, Karnataka Chief Minister and JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy, former NDA ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, and BJP rebel Shatrughan Sinha.
The mammoth gathering at the Brigade Parade Ground spilled over to the streets of Kolkata, with Trinamool sources estimating that 20 lakh people attended the event. On stage, leaders from different parts of the country gave speeches in, besides Bengali, Tamil, Hindi and English, with simultaneous translations in Bengali.
“This gathbandhan (alliance) has been formed to save the people of the nation and give them justice. Everyone has to come together for the sake of the nation. Whichever party is powerful in a certain state should be allowed and strongly supported to fight the BJP there. One city or state is not important but the country is very important. That’s why collective leadership is vital. We will decide on the prime minister after the Lok Sabha polls… The BJP government has crossed its expiry date. We all have to fight together to ensure that they are defeated,” declared Mamata Banerjee at the rally.
Banerjee said similar rallies would be held in Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh), Delhi and Kashmir. “Chandrababu Naidu has invited us all to Amaravati where he will hold a similar rally. Arvind Kejriwal will organise such a rally in Delhi. If Farooq Abdullah holds one in Kashmir, we will all participate,” she said.
The rallies, she said, would be preceded by a meeting in Delhi, where the leaders would discuss the setting up of a committee to draft a joint policy document for the general elections.
Many of the leaders in their speeches called for Electronic Voting Machines to be discontinued and sought a return to ballot papers.
“These are chor machines. Ballot papers should be brought back,” said Farooq Abdullah. Later in the evening, after a meeting over tea to discuss the roadmap for a possible coalition, the leaders announced that a committee — with SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, BSP’s Satish Mishra and Congress’s Singhvi as members — had been formed to take up the matter with the Election Commission.
The rally also stressed on the importance of regional parties and called for immediate seat-sharing talks like in Uttar Pradesh. The leaders also alleged that the Centre was trying to undermine the rights of state governments and misusing constitutional agencies to “hound” regional party leaders. Kumaraswamy, whose government in Karnataka recently suffered a minor scare over allegations of horse-trading, alleged that the BJP is “trying to buy the state legislature and is foiling government programmes”.
Speaking at the rally, Kumaraswamy’s father Deve Gowda said, “Time is short. The question is, how will we come together? What will be our policy and programmes? I appeal to leaders here to form a small group to draw up a manifesto and a policy document. At the same time, senior leaders should sort out the seat-sharing issue. We have to send out the message to the people that coalition governments can be stable and can work for development,” he said.
DMK president M K Stalin, who recently caused a flutter in the Opposition ranks when he proposed Rahul Gandhi’s name for PM, today said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is afraid of a few people, including Mamata Banerjee.”
Akhilesh Yadav said the message of unity would “travel from Kolkata to every corner of the country”. “On January 12, we held a press conference announcing a coalition with the BSP. Now BJP is not sure if they can win even a single seat in UP. I believe BJP will be defeated in Tamil Nadu, Bengal and other places too. They (BJP) have been saying there are so many PM candidates among us; we are saying the people will decide (who will be PM). I will be going home from this rally with an assurance that Modi and Shah are on their way out of power,” he said.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu termed Modi “a publicity Prime Minister” and said the nation needs a new PM who can perform.
Kejriwal alleged that the BJP has done in five years “what Pakistan could not do to India in 70 years. The BJP has succesfully divided the country and turned it into pieces… They will destroy the country if they come to power again,” Kejriwal said.