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How Mamata played the unifier at Brigade rally

Bengal's chief minister played the role of the emcee with the élan of a professional
Mamata Banerjee at the Brigade rally on Saturday.

Devadeep Purohit And Sandip Chowdhury   |   Calcutta   |   Published 19.01.19, 07:59 PM

Through the day, she acted as the galvanising force for Opposition figures of all hues. Job done, she addressed her social commitments in the evening.

Mamata Banerjee’s ability to seamlessly mould herself into the rallying point for the Opposition seeking to upstage the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections was in full display at the Brigade rally on Saturday.

The Bengal chief minister played the role of the emcee with the élan of a professional. There was a personal touch, too, in the manner in which she received each of her guests, walked them to the dais and introduced them before inviting them to address the gathering.

Introducing BJP dissident Shatrughan Sinha, Mamata said: “Now there is a Bihari babu.” Referring to the next speaker, the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, she said: “And after him, there will be another Bihari babu.”

Trinamul sources said the order in which the leaders would speak had also been decided by Mamata.

The first two speakers were Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two main tormentors in his home state of Gujarat — Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Left-leaning Dalit mascot Jignesh Mevani.

“She wanted to start the assault on Modi with two of his enemies from Gujarat,” a source said.

After the rally, Mamata hosted the Opposition leaders at a tea session at Soujanya, a government guesthouse for VVIPs in Alipore, in the evening. “She was in a very good mood after the success of the rally. So, in the evening, she attended some social events,” a source close to Mamata said.

The Bengal chief minister, indeed, had reason to be happy with the outcome of the “United India” rally, several Trinamul leaders said. Some of them recalled that when she had announced the anti-BJP rally at Trinamul’s annual “Martyrs’ Day” programme on July 21 last year, they had been taken by surprise.

“Unlike today, the anti-BJP mood was not as strong last July. We were not sure whether such a rally would yield us political dividends,” said a senior Trinamul leader. On Saturday evening, the Trinamul camp was busy counting its gains from the rally.

“At times, people have mocked her attempts to play a larger role in national politics. Today she proved that she has the ability of galvanising more than 20 Opposition parties from across the country. Isn’t that enough to be one of the top leaders in national politics?” asked a Trinamul leader, referring to the line-up in the group picture clicked midway through the rally.

“And all of them congratulated Didi for holding the meeting,” he added.

Over and above the attendance on the dais, Trinamul celebrated a despatch from 10 Janpath, the residence of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, which included a message and two messengers — leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

In the run-up to Saturday’s meeting, questions had been raised on the efficacy of an Opposition conclave that might not have representation from the Congress. As the Bengal Congress had expressed reservations about the participation of senior party leaders in Mamata’s show, the absence of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi had started drawing attention.

“Rahul sent a message yesterday and Soniaji’s message was read out (at the rally) by the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha…. This proves her (Mamata’s) worth,” said a Trinamul source.

In her message, Sonia wished the rally all success and said the upcoming Lok Sabha polls would be an election to “restore the nation’s faith in democracy”.

Echoing what Mamata often says about the Modi government, Sonia’s letter described the Opposition rally as an “important attempt to galvanise leaders across the political spectrum to fight the arrogant and divisive Modi-rule”.

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