Even as she remained ambivalent on the Opposition’s face to take on the BJP, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi today while powering through a packed schedule in a bid to resurrect a united Opposition to take on the BJP juggernaut in the 2024 general elections.
Sources said Rahul also attended the meeting.
“Hum akele koi kuch nahi hai (alone we are nothing). Everyone has to come on board," she was quoted as saying after the meeting.
“Our meeting was fruitful. We discussed many issues including COVID-19 and Pegasus besides a strong opposition. I personally believe that we need to be united to defeat the BJP. The Centre should respond to the Pegasus issue in the Parliament. Why are they mum on the Pegasus issue?"
When she was asked once again who will be the face of the opposition, she said, “I am not a leader but I am a cadre. I am a street person. I will work as a worker.”
The Bengal chief minister is in Delhi for five days. She had met with senior Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma yesterday.
Before the meeting, Mamata spoke to a handful of reporters, where she clarified that she had no leaning towards being the prime minister.
“I want to help all the opposition parties to bell the cat. I don’t want to be a leader, but a simple cadre," she said on the leadership issue.
“I am not a political astrologer. It depends on the situation, structure. I have no problem if someone else leads. When the matter is discussed we can decide. I cannot impose," Banerjee told the media when asked if she would be the face of the Opposition.
Recently, while addressing the ‘Ekushey July’ (Martyrs’ Day on July 21) speech virtually from her residence at Kalighat in South Kolkata, she had said, “It is difficult to predict what will happen in 2024 (Lok Sabha Poll) but we have to start preparing for it now. I would like to request senior leaders like Sharad Pawar ji to arrange a meeting (of Opposition leaders) in Delhi as I will be in the national capital. We can’t afford to waste time. I will work as an ordinary worker and I will follow your instructions to fight against this dangerous government at the Centre.”
She further said, “We need to work now on a formula against the BJP considering the 2024 Polls because ‘azadi khatre mein hai’ (freedom is in danger). Therefore, let’s unite to save our country because we have only two and half years left (for 2024 Lok Sabha polls). I felt that the alliance just before the poll will not work and therefore we have to work on mission 2024 from now onwards.”
This is not the first time Mamata that diluted the issue over who will be the face of the united force against the BJP.
In November 2018, in a carefully scripted speech, she refused to name any leader as the face of the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
This time too, sensing that projecting an individual face could jeopardise her effort to bring all Opposition parties under an umbrella – Mamata on Wednesday clarified that she will work as an ordinary worker and she will listen to the instructions of other members of the united force against the BJP.
Political expert and Professor of Jadavpur University (JU), Partha Pratim Biswas, said, “She cleared the air about her role in the alliance because she doesn’t want to allow anyone to sabotage their game plan to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha Polls. I think that she purposely clarified her role in advance to rubbish media reports that she is setting her footprint in other states to project herself as the most credible face against PM Modi. Such reports may damage the potential unity of the Opposition forces.”
On Pegasus issue, she hit out at the Centre and claimed that her cell phone along with Abhishek Banerjee and Prashant Kishor was tapped. “Pegasus has put everyone’s life in danger…No one is safe in this country,” she added.
A rocky relationship
Ever since her exit from the Congress party in 1997 – Banerjee has maintained an ‘average’ term with the Congress leadership in Delhi.
Even today (July 28), none from TMC were present at the meeting of 14 opposition parties ‘chaired’ by Rahul Gandhi. It was learnt that Rahul Gandhi held the meeting to discuss strategies to corner BJP in the Parliament over the Pegasus issue.
Except for TMC, the meeting was attended by Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena, CPI, CPI (M), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Revolutionary Socialist Party, Muslim League, DMK, National Conference and the Samajwadi Party etc.
Responding to TMC’s absence in the meeting, TMC MP Derek O’Brien said, “The opposition is 100 per cent united and we have already intimated the Congress about TMC’s absence.”
Despite having a frosty relationship with the Congress - she never polluted the political courtesy with her former party colleagues especially Sonia Gandhi considering the role of her husband Rajiv Gandhi in shaping her political career in national politics.
It was Rajiv Gandhi who made Mamata Banerjee the Lok Sabha candidate from Jadavpur in 1984. Then she was just 29-years-old.
In her autobiographical account in her book named ‘My Unforgettable Memories’, Banerjee even mentioned that she became orphan for the second time (after Rajiv Gandhi assassination on May 21, 1991) in her life since her father’s death.
In the past, Banerjee skipped many meetings called by Sonia Gandhi over differences of opinion but she never blocked the communication channel with the central Congress leadership.
Political experts observed that Mamata Banerjee became worried and intensified her mission outreach towards opposition leaders after Narendra Modi came to power once again in 2019. Then, BJP grew exponentially in Bengal and their strategies helped the BJP to create history by securing 18 Lok Sabha seats out of the total 42 in Bengal in 2019.
Being a seasoned politician, Mamata realised that BJP will engage all its resources in securing Bengal in the 2021 Assembly Polls and therefore she handled the oppositions carefully without offending them over national issues.
However, her biggest political fear didn’t come true as she managed to defeat the BJP and formed the government with a full majority in 2021.
Since, the Bengal poll was considered as the mother of all political battles and after the successful execution of her mission ‘Khela Hobe’ (let’s play) - the gully girl of Bengal suddenly emerged a force to reckon with.
Therefore, seeking a larger role in national politics – she met Sonia Gandhi today to shape an anti-BJP front ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Mamata’s Delhi visit and her meetings with opposition party leaders could be seen as TMC’s effort to expand its footprints in the rest of the country.
Already, she sent a team of party leaders to protest against the alleged house arrest of Prashant Kishor’s I-Pac officials. The I-Pac officials reached Tripura to plan strategies.
The next Tripura Legislative Assembly election is scheduled to be held in or before February 2023 to elect all 60 members of the state’s Legislative and TMC is going to contest in all the seats.