Leaders from over two dozen opposition parties and a sea of supporters assembled in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground on Saturday, as part of Mamata Banerjee’s mega rally to put up a united fight against the BJP in the upcoming general elections.
Vowing to remove BJP from the , over 20 regional leaders and two from the Congress attended the show of unity by the Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal chief minister. Billed as the largest such event in the state’s contemporary history, the giant rally was declared a hit as the leaders put up a formidable front against the BJP’s hegemony. After
four hours of deliberations in front of a huge audience, some concrete ideas were also discussed and agreed upon.
“The BJP government has crossed its expiry date,” Banerjee, the last speaker said, adding “[I] Haven’t seen anyone run a country in a such a fascist manner.” She ended her speech with the signature “BJP hatao, desh bachao” and “Jai Hind, Vande mataram” chant.
Opposition crying “Bachao Bachao”: Modi
“Modi is unable to take everyone along. One who can’t take everyone along, can’t be a leader. This is the beginning of BJP’s end,” she also said during the rally, only to be mimicked later by the Prime Minister.
Modi slammed the proposed ‘’ for being against the people of India, accusing his political rivals of banding together to save themselves from his campaign against corruption, referring to which received flak at the historic rally.
The controversial Rafale deal and rising unemployment problems also came up, as leaders of the opposition took turns to broach their third front agenda in Kolkata, effectively kick-starting their campaign ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
A political gambit
Among the most important consensus that was arrived at, the leaders pledged to set aside all differences between their respective and even decided to deliberate on the issue of the prime minister’s post after the elections.
They also agreed to form a committee to draw up a common manifesto and launch a campaign against tampering of electronic voting machines.
Some suggested that the opposition should put up a joint candidate against each BJP nominee in all constituencies, for a stronger one-to-one fight.
Former Prime Minister and veteran leader Deve Gowda reminded, “The seat-sharing issue in different states is a Herculean task and should be decided by the leaders themselves. There is no senior leaders like JP or Acharya Kripalani anymore. We have to give confidence to the people of this country on how the coalition will move forward. But, all the leaders have come together to give a befitting reply to Modi.”
The attendees also decided to more joint rallies ahead of the elections before May, with the next public meeting scheduled to be held in New Delhi and Andhra Pradesh capital, Amravati.
Among those who attended was the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, who read a message from UPA’s Sonia Gandhi wishing success to the rally. “The PM promised to generate 20 million jobs every year, but 16 million people have lost jobs. Farmers are distressed, there are no jobs, but the Centre is just thinking about 2019,” Kharge lambasted the BJP-led NDA alliance on Saturday.
JDS chief Deve Gowda, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, NC’s Farooq Abdullah, DMK chief M K Stalin were also in attendance, as was Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu.
Former BJP leaders Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, and BJP rebel Shatrughan Sinha also shared the dais with the regional opposition parties, expressing dismay at BJP’s failure to deliver on poll promises.
Delhi chief minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal accused the BJP of creating divisions among the people in the name of religion, saying this had been “Pakistan’s dream”.
BSP-SP alliance to play a role?
BSP supremo Mayawati didn’t come to but was represented by Rajya Sabha MP Satish Mishra who addressed the meeting and highlighted his party’s recently forged alliance with the SP in Uttar Pradesh. “The entire country is echoing with the demand to oust the BJP. We have to come together to save the Constitution of Babasaheb Ambedkar. The SP-BSP alliance had been formed to defeat the BJP,” he said.
Echoing Mishra, SP president Akhilesh Yadav said many people had thought the SP and the BSP won’t be able to clinch an alliance. “The BJP is now thinking how to win at least one seat in UP,” he said in an apparent reference to Modi’s Varanasi constituency. Those who used to say ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ have turned one against the other by infusing poison in the country. We will fight together to save the country and the Constitution,” he said.
“This year, we will have a new PM,” he announced at the rally.
The rise of the regional powers
Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy said the last 70 years has been marked by the emergence of strong regional parties which fought tooth and nail to protect the interests of their own states. Prior to the rally, Banerjee also said she aims to send a warning and make a prediction for the NDA-led , hinting that the Mahagathbandhan that has been on everyone’s lips since last year, is finally taking shape with as many members it can on common ground.
The show of strength and support at the rally was an affirmation of the consensus about replacing the BJP-led NDA coalition with an oppositional alliance, but there is no manifesto or promises on the table yet.
In the course of the next five months, contours of this alliance will be shaped and reshaped, which will determine if the upcoming polls will witness a historic triangular fight among the central parties and regional allies, while also testing the power and prospects of a third federal alliance working in India’s political structure.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius