DAYS AFTER saying that her party will contest the Lok Sabha elections alone, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday sought a joint Opposition fight against the BJP. While she did not mention Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification, TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee came out strongly in support of the Congress leader, and said the TMC might take legal action against leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking cues from the case against Rahul.
Indicating a shift of stance, the TMC had earlier on Monday night attended an Opposition meeting called by the Congress – after a long gap — to discuss Rahul’s disqualification and the Modi government’s measures.
If Rahul could face conviction, and consequently disqualification, over a statement made during a poll rally, Abhishekh said, why should PM Modi not be charged for “hurting the sentiments of women in West Bengal” by his taunt of “Didi o Didi!” for Mamata during the 2021 state Assembly polls.
But if the TMC’s equivocal support will gladden the Congress’s heart, its ally and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar again gave mixed signals on Wednesday. Asked about Rahul’s disqualification and his silence on it, the Bihar CM said he “never spoke on court matters”, while adding that there is a legal provision to move a superior court in such matters.
Abhishek, who was addressing a rally of the TMC’s student and youth wing in Kolkata, said: “If Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified for his comments as per the law, why shouldn’t the same happen for PM Modi and (TMC-turned-BJP leader) Suvendu Adhikari?” He accused Adhikari, the Leader of Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, of insulting tribals by saying that Birbaha Hansda and Debnath Hansda (TMC minister and MLA, respectively) “deserve to be under his feet”. “I urge our legal cell to weaponise the Surat court’s judgment (against Rahul) and move a petition (against Modi, Adhikari) within a month,” Abhishek added.
Mamata, who began a two-day dharna in Kolkata against the Centre over dues owed to the state among other issues, said the BJP will be defeated if the Opposition took it on across states. “Where will the BJP get seats from? Uttar Pradesh? We will go to UP to side with Akhilesh (Yadav) against the BJP. They will not get seats in Bihar, Bengal, Odisha, Rajasthan, Maharashtra either.”
Both the TMC chief and Abhishek accused the BJP of using Central agencies against Opposition parties. “They targeted Uddhav (Thackeray), Arvind (Kejriwal), Jagan (Reddy), Stalin, Akhilesh, Tejashwi (Yadav),” said Mamata, naming leaders across parties and states.
After the shock Sagardighi bypoll defeat to the Congress-CPI(M) recently, Mamata had said: “In 2024, we will see an alliance between the Trinamool and the people. We will not go with any of the other political parties. We will fight alone with people’s support. Those who want to defeat the BJP, I believe they will vote for us. The ones voting for the CPI(M) and Congress are actually voting for the BJP.”
Sitting on the dharna with a copy of the Constitution, near a statue of Bhimaro Ambedkar, surrounded by her ministers and party leaders, Mamata said: “Our protest is to save the Constitution and fight the Centre’s apathy towards Bengal… If needed, I have the courage to sit outside the PM’s house for a dharna.”
Across the venue, the TMC had put up cutouts of LPG cylinders to target the BJP government over rising prices.
Attacking the CPI(M), Mamata said the Left Front government it led was one of “dacoits”. Terming the BJP “goons”, the CM said it wants to create a riot-like situation during Ramzan and Ram Navami. With the TMC eager to retain the Muslim vote that has been slipping away from it, the CM said: “If they attack anyone in Muslim areas, action will be taken against the culprits as per the law… Everybody should observe Ram Navami, Ramzan, and Annapurna Puja peacefully.”
At his rally barely 500 metres away, Abhishek said: “If needed, we will organise movements in Delhi against the Centre stopping funds to West Bengal.”
On the “misuse” of Central agencies, Abhishek said: “We want an investigation and justice if there has been corruption. But there shouldn’t be a pick and choose policy.”
He said the TMC was “the only party” that acted swiftly against leaders facing corruption allegations. “Action was taken against Partha Chatterjee in six days. Our workers should hold their heads high while going to the people.”
Abhishek also pointed out that BJP leaders recently shared the stage in Gujarat with a convict in the Bilkis Bano gangrape and murder case of 2002.
He said he was not afraid of the BJP government slapping cases against him. “In the past 22 months, there have been 21 CBI cases in Bengal. No other state has seen this. They want to weaken the state government economically and jail TMC workers in false cases.”
Asked about the Rahul matter, Nitish, who was speaking to reporters in Patna, said: “I never speak on court matters ever since I have been in politics. I do not speak even when a case is filed against my leader. I have been CM for 17 years now, one cannot cite a single instance of me speaking on court matters and on those facing probes.”
Earlier, JD(U) national president Rajeev Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh had said that due process of law was not followed before Rahul was disqualified as MP.
While also dodging queries about PM Modi’s statement on Tuesday that “all corrupt parties” have joined hands in the name of Opposition unity, Nitish said that the agencies only seemed to act against the BJP’s opponents. “So long as we were with the BJP, there was no action. Now that I am not with the NDA, they have intensified action against them (RJD leaders),” he said.
Earlier, Nitish had refrained from speaking about Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra too. The JD(U) had not joined other Congress allies in participating in the yatra for small stretches.
Nitish is believed to have frosty ties with Rahul since 2016, when he had expected Rahul to warm up to him for Opposition unity. Before he joined the NDA in 2017, Nitish had made one last attempt to remain in the UPA and met Rahul, but nothing had come of it.
Nitish earlier said he wants the Congress to reciprocate to gestures by Opposition leaders for unity. A JD(U) leader said: “The JD(U) is not happy about the Congress not taking any strong initiative for Opposition unity. Nitish Kumar has often said the Congress has to be the nucleus for this, but Congress leaders have not responded warmly.”