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Opposition flexes its muscle in Kolkata rally

United front: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joining hands with leaders of various political parties at the rally in Kolkata on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Setting the agenda of the united Opposition at a massive rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds here on Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the selection of a prime ministerial candidate was not the priority of the over 20 parties assembled in the city. Instead, she said it was not important to have a face but to unite like opposing forces in nature — “the light and the shade or the rain and the sun” — setting aside differences with a common goal to defeat the BJP.

In the presence of the entire anti-BJP spectrum of parties, she argued that the national party was “past its expiry date.”

Many top leaders, including former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, echoed her views, saying the parties should “immediately” come together to structure an Opposition road map for the 2019 election. Mr. Gowda, who led a complex coalition government two decades ago, warned that “time is short and the work is difficult.”

Ms. Banerjee said the “beginning of the end of the BJP” had started from this meeting. “This is not the time to think about the next Prime Minister. The question does not arise. We will decide that, all together, after the election,” she said as she spoke at the end of the rally. She argued that the BJP’s strategy to ask “who would be the leader” of the Opposition was a ploy to divide the Opposition. “[Any] one [person] is not important but everybody needs to come together [as] the collective leadership is important,” she said.

Quoting from Rabindranath Tagore, Ms. Banerjee said “Amra sobai raja amader ei rajar rajjotye [We all are kings in the reign of this king],” adding a caveat, “We have to keep in mind we are not ‘kings,’ but subjects as this is a democracy.” She argued that the BJP not only “humiliates” the Opposition but refuses to extend respect to its own leaders.

“It is destroying all the institutions in the country, the CBI, the ED, the RBI, the banks, and now the plan is make sure that you, the people, can’t withdraw more than one lakh rupees from the bank,” she said.

Echoing Aam Aadmi Party convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Ms. Banerjee said, “Pakistan, despite several attempts, could not break the country in 70 years, but the BJP has nearly done it in five years.” The BJP is engaged in spreading hate among the people, she said.

Panel on poll reforms

In a rally that lasted over three hours, leaders, including Farooq Abdullah and Chandrababu Naidu, used the occasion to raise questions on the use of electronic voting machines. The issue should be taken to the Election Commission, Dr. Abdullah said. Later Ms. Banerjee announced the formation of a four-member Opposition panel to suggest electoral reforms to the EC before the Lok Sabha election.

Addressing the rally, former Union Minister Arun Shourie, congratulated Ms. Banerjee for bringing all parties together.

“So far only Modi united the Opposition. Now since the Bengal tigress (Ms Banerjee) has taken this job, I think other parties will follow it,” Mr Shourie said.

Amaravati meet

His suggestion of holding similar rallies by the opposition was quickly followed by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandababu Naidu’s announcement of hosting one at Amaravati. Ms. Banerjee welcomed Mr. Naidu’s proposal and Mr. Kejriwal’s idea to host another meet in Delhi.

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge read out a statement from former party president Sonia Gandhi. Ms. Gandhi termed the Brigade Rally an “important attempt to galvanise leaders across the political spectrum to fight the arrogant and divisive Modi government.” Mr. Kharge urged parties to rise above their differences. “Dil mile na mile, kamse kam haath mila kar chalo (Whether our hearts meet or not, we should walk holding hands),” he said.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda spoke of the challenges of running a coalition and how important it was to explain to people that coalition government can also deliver. He said senior leaders should come together and prepare a policy document. He named Mr. Naidu and Mr. Shourie informally as committee members.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav and former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha also spoke of doing “whatever it takes to defeat the Modi government in 2019.”

While Mr. Yadav spoke of the significance of the Samajawadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) alliance in Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Kejriwal said if voted to power again, the BJP government will change the Constitution. Politicians from north east such as Gegong Apang, former Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, and Pu Lalduhoma of Zoram Nationalist Party of Mizoram explained their reservations on the Citizenship Amendment Bill and how it may affect the BJP.

The rally saw young leaders such as Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani from Gujarat, Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Jayant Chowdhury of the Rashtriya Lok Dal congratulating Ms. Banerjee for organising such a gathering.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 9:33:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/opposition-flexes-its-muscle-in-kolkata-rally/article26039844.ece

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