Janata Dal United chief Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav on Monday met Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee at Nabanna, the Bengal secretariat, as part of multi-pronged efforts to achieve and cement wider Opposition unity ahead of the general election next year.
The meeting, the three leaders said during a brief news conference, was “positive” and “fruitful”, as Mamata stressed the need to drag the BJP down from “a big (self-styled) hero” to zero.
Bihar and Bengal, taken together, have 82 Lok Sabha seats between them.
“I am very pleased that the two leaders visited Bengal. I requested Nitishji that much like the JP Movement, a meeting of significance should take place there. The message should go out that the (national) Opposition is together. First, an informal, closed-door meeting. After that, we can decide on the manifesto and other key details,” said the Bengal chief minister.
She was referring to the historic Bihar-centric political movement with nationwide impact — also known as Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution) — led by veteran Gandhian socialist Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s.
“I have always said that the BJP should be brought down to a total zero. They have made themselves a big hero with the help of pliant sections of the media, and fake narratives that they pitch daily. All they are really capable of are jumla (means a figure of speech, but now considered synonymous with gimmickry) and hooliganism,” added Mamata, who since March 17 has met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, BJD chief Naveen Patnaik, JDS leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, and had telephone discussions with DMK chief M.K. Stalin, JMM leader Hemant Soren and BSR chief K. Chandrashekar Rao.
The Bengal chief minister and her Bihar counterpart have shared purportedly testy ties since their stint together as BJP allies during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre. More recently, Mamata had been displeased with him — calling him “a traitor” publicly on a number of occasions — for his unreliability as an anti-BJP force, on account of his propensity to be an on-again, off-again ally of the saffron camp.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee with Bihar deputy CM and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav at Nabanna on Monday
On Monday, however, in the presence of RJD patriarch Lalu Yadav’s son Tejashwi (whom Mamata is very fond of), there was some thawing as Nitish lavished praise on her for the “remarkable development” she made possible in Bengal. Sources said he also lauded her for her uncompromising stand against the saffron regime, despite many difficulties of an alleged economic blockade of Bengal by the BJP-led Centre.
“We decided that all political parties should unite and fight against the BJP together. We will have more such discussions in the future and decide on the future course of action. Whatever we decide should be for the benefit of our nation,” said the JDU chief.
Nitish was here primarily to continue with the onerous task of parleys with non-BJP parties less favourably disposed towards the Congress, such as Trinamul and the BSR. The Congress, according to the recent understanding between Rahul Gandhi and Nitish, would negotiate with parties that take kindly to it, such as the NCP and the DMK.
“At present, the party that is governing our country has no care for development. All they care about is their own publicity, and politics… nothing else, while the country’s development has taken a backseat,” said Nitish.
“In the near future, all other political parties will also meet, and we will chart our way forward.”
“If you look at the history of our nation, those who didn’t take part in our freedom struggle, are today determined to change its history, so that future generations are unable to learn the truth about the past,” he added.
Till the saffron regime’s manoeuvres to have Rahul disqualified as a member of the Lok Sabha, Mamata had been pitching firmly for equidistance from the BJP as well as the Congress. Since his disqualification, however, she has been showing signs of recalibration in her approach of untouchability towards the Congress, for which she was being fiercely criticised and accused of aiding the BJP.
On Monday, Mamata brushed aside the suggestion of personal differences for the common cause of ousting the BJP from the Centre.
“We are also talking to other Opposition parties across the country and there is no issue of any clash of personal egos. We all wantto work together collectively, and this is the message that we are sending out today,” she said.
Asked about the 1:1 formula — only the strongest non-BJP candidate against the BJP candidate in as many of the 543 Lok Sabha seats as possible — that both she and Nitish are in favour of, Mamata said: “Let us all sit together and decide our next course of action. If our vision and mission is clear, no obstacle will be able to stop us.”
Asked who the face of the united Opposition would be, the Trinamul chief asserted: “All are together, all are together… you need not worry.”
“It will be a fight of the people of the nation against the BJP. Every (non-BJP) party will work together,” she added.
Mamata has been pitching in favour of the 1:1 formulafor a while, questioning the BJP’s very ability to winnext year, dismissing the meticulously crafted and religiously protected perception of the invincibility of the Narendra Modi regime. She takes the example of 11 states — accounting for 271 Lok Sabha seats — where the BJP, according to her, is not likely to fare well.