Mamata sets Delhi goal

Mamata at the rally. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta: Mamata Banerjee used her party's martyrs' day event to launch her 2019 campaign to oust the BJP from the Centre, delivering a speech that reflected her keenness to play a lead role nationally.

Not once during the 52-minute speech did the Trinamul Congress chief waver from her pan-India focus, firing salvo after salvo at the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duopoly without naming them, a day after the BJP had nailed a floor test by a 325-126 margin.

"They have the won on the floor of the Lok Sabha, on the basis of the 2014 arithmetic, but they have lost the people," the Bengal chief minister declared.

She excoriated the BJP and its wider parivar for their alleged politics of communal hatred, riots, lynching, intrigue, corruption and murder.

Mamata said the BJP was steadily losing the faith of its allies and named the Shiv Sena, Telugu Desam Party (which quit the NDA this year) and the Biju Janata Dal (which left the alliance in 2009).

She predicted a BJP tally of 100-150 seats in the general election, due next summer. She aired her forecasts for nine states that together account for 315 of the 543 seats and where the BJP would be "swallowed up". 

Mamata also announced plans for a rally of "50 lakh people" at the Brigade Parade Grounds on January 19 next.

"We'll invite the federal front (of regional parties) and all (other Opposition) political parties. We don't care about the chair; we care for the country, its people and its soil," she said.

Less than an hour later, the BJP announced that Modi would address a rally at Brigade on January 23.

Police sources suggested a crowd count of around 4 lakh on Saturday, spread across the Esplanade venue and nearby areas. Mamata said she had seen another "20-30 lakh" rally-bound people on the streets on her way to the event, held to commemorate the 13 who died in police firing on Youth Congress supporters on July 21, 1993.

After the rally, sources close to Mamata said she had already invited former Congress president Sonia Gandhi to the January rally and would even ask the CPM to participate. The claim implies Mamata is open to a BJP versus "Congress plus the rest of the Opposition" formula.

A sea of Trinamul supporters with umbrellas at the martyrs’ day rally in Calcutta on Saturday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta  

Mamata's stress on a "federal front" of regional parties has often provoked the criticism that an Opposition combine minus the Congress would end up helping the BJP.

Some saw the invite to the CPM for the Brigade show - which Alimuddin Street promptly declined - as a gesture aimed at suggesting Mamata doesn't believe in the politics of "untouchability".

The Trinamul chief, however, had a word of caution for the Congress and the CPM. "The Congress and the CPM, you decide what you want. You will join hands with the BJP in Bengal and then you will seek my help in Delhi - this will not happen anymore," she said.

Political scientists said Mamata appeared to have realised, after toiling for a pan-India coalition of non-BJP forces since 2016, that the time had come to switch gears and stake claim to a leadership role.

"It's clear that her vision includes outside support from the Congress to a federal front government that she would head," said Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University.


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