As the 16th Lok Sabha ended on Wednesday, prominent Opposition leaders addressed a public meeting at Jantar Mantar, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah’s days of “terrorizing” their opponents were over, but also warned the Congress to respect regional political parties.
The public meeting at Jantar Mantar, barely a kilometer from Parliament, was organised by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Nearly all political parties who have rallied against the BJP in recent months sent their representatives, with the exception of the Bahujan Samaj Party. It was also a rare occasion a Congress leader attended a public meeting the AAP organised, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal welcoming Congress’s Anand Sharma to the dais amid speculation that the two parties could reach an electoral understanding for the seven Lok Sabha seats of Delhi.
With portraits of B R Ambedkar forming the backdrop on the dais, all the leaders spoke of democracy being in peril if the BJP were to return to power, the Modi government destroying institutions, and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), whose report on the Rafale fighter jet deal was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, the latest to join the list.
Several leaders, including Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, Left’s Sitaram Yechury, National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and others addressed the meeting. The highlight, however, was Banerjee’s speech, who had organised a similar anti-BJP public meeting of opposition leaders in Kolkata on January 19.
According to sources, Banerjee, before she reached the meeting venue, had complained to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in the Central Hall of Parliament about local Congress leaders in Bengal attacking her. The Congress is upset at Trinamool for poaching their Lok Sabha member Mausam Noor. Gandhi told Banerjee that their parties might fight at times, but will remain friends.
At the public meeting, Banerjee slammed Modi and Shah, but warned the Congress as well. She suggested the Congress needed to respect regional parties. Banerjee said whichever party is strongest in their respective state should lead the fight against the BJP in that state – whether it is the Trinamool in Bengal, or AAP in Delhi or the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
Banerjee said hers was also a party with national status, and could field candidates everywhere, but will not in the larger interest of fighting the BJP. She said the Congress should fight the BJP in states where it is strong, like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states, but that doesn’t mean the Trinamool would field candidates there. Banejree said in Bengal she would fight the Congress, CPI (M) and BJP, but at the Centre, her party supported the Congress and Left’s fight against the BJP. With the Left and Congress inching towards an electoral alliance Bengal, Banerjee said her party would win all of Bengal’s 42-seats.
NCP’s Pawar said it was time to stop asking who is the alternative and how would the alliance run the government. He reminded the peopled that the opposition did not offer any alternative to Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004. There was not even a proper alliance against the BJP, but leaders sat together after the elections and ran a government led by Manmohan Singh for 10-years. He said the circumstances were different now and democracy was in peril. Abdullah implored opposition leaders needed to bury their egos if they wished to defeat the BJP, and be willing to lay their lives for the country and not fight merely to protect their chairs.
Enthusing the AAP cadres and mindful of the tug of war between the Congress and AAP in Delhi, Banerjee said Kejriwal-led party should target winning all of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats. Andhra CM Naidu also praised Kejriwal repeatedly. He said the 2019 polls could turn out to be the last elections in the country if the BJP were not defeated.
In somewhat of a jolt to the opposition, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav said in the Lok Sabha that he wished to see Modi back as prime minister, with the PM acknowledging the ‘blessing’ with folded hands. Pointing to Modi, Mulayam said he wished the BJP leader comes back as the prime minister, remarks that drew applause from the treasury benches. "There is much to do. And Mulayam Singhji has given his blessings. I am very grateful to him," the PM said.