Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata rally updates: Akhilesh Yadav accuses BJP of disappointing masses; Farooq Abdullah bats for EVM-free polls

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Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata rally updates: Akhilesh Yadav accuses BJP of disappointing masses; Farooq Abdullah bats for EVM-free polls
  • 17:21 (IST)

    Opposition only looking to defeat Modi, no roadmap for India's future: Ravi Shankar Prasad

    Speaking to ANI, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the Opposition parties' united front is only to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and that they have "no future road-map for the development of India."

    Reiterating the BJP's questions about who will lead the Opposition parties, he said: "Someone said in a very funny manner that our leader will be elected by the people of India, you have to name your leader to be elected by the people of India. Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamata Ji and some regional players too, all have prime ministerial ambitions.

  • 17:17 (IST)

    Farooq Abdullah bats for EVM-free polls

    Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah reiterated the Opposition's demand for elections that are free of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), and are only paper-based.

  • 17:07 (IST)

    Press conference begins, Akhilesh says BJP let down the masses

    As united Opposition leaders spoke to media, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav thanked West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for organising the United India rally, and accused the BJP of letting down the people.

    "I congratulate Mamata didi for getting all of us together. The BJP has disappointed the people of the nation. They have no answers to any of our questions," he said.

    Input by A Ghosh, 101Reporters

  • 16:40 (IST)

    VISUALS: Heavy traffic jam at Rabindra Setu (Howrah Bridge) due to TMC rally

    Image courtesy: PTI

  • 16:27 (IST)

    Too many saints can ruin a monastery, says Shivraj Singh Chouhan

    Shortly after the United India rally came to a close, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took to Twitter to respond to the Opposition show of strength. "Too many saints can ruin a monastery," he wrote adding that "22 parties, a few MPs and a few prime minister aspirants...who can stop one from dreaming big?"

  • 16:20 (IST)

    BJP leaders join attack on Opposition

    Gujarat BJP secretary Pradipsinh Vaghela tweeted a fresh attack on the Opposition parties that took part in the TMC-led United India rally, and said that they are all just scared of the BJP's strength.

  • 16:10 (IST)

    Former TMC leader calls rally a 'circus'

    West Bengal BJP leader and former TMC leader Mukul Roy on Saturday took to Twitter to condemn the Opposition met, saying that West Bengal is once again witnessing a "circus" under Mamata Banerjee's rule, similar to what Jyoti Basu had faced.

    "Various jokers and lying artists coming together to destroy India again," he wrote.

  • 16:04 (IST)

    BJP continues attack on Mahagathbandhan, says parties neck-deep in scams

    BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya took to Twitter to comment on the Opposition's show of strength, and said that while the Opposition governments continue to be embroiled in scams, the Narendra Modi government continues to have a clean rap sheet.

  • 15:46 (IST)

    Who will be PM can be decided after Lok Sabha polls: Mamata

    Emphasising the Opposition parties' unity, Mamata Banerjee said that it is 'inevitable' that a new government will be formed at the Centre, adding that this is the people's verdict.

    The event concluded shortly after within chants of "badal do, badal do, Dilli mein sarkar badal do" and "Jai Hind".

  • 15:37 (IST)

    Don't need to worry about our leader: Mamata

    Responding to the BJP's inquiry about the leader of the united Opposition front, the TMC leader said: "They are worried who will become our leader. We all are leaders here. You don't have to worry. Post elections we will decide who to become prime minister. BJP has become leaderless. That is why they have one party president and one prime minister

    Input from A Ghosh, 101Reporters

  • 15:34 (IST)

    Mamata Banerjee speaks, says government will change like the seasons

    Saying that the Opposition party is hitting out at the Prime Minister because he has been doing the same, TMC leader Mamata Banerjee addressed the crowed in Bengali. "There is a lakshman rekha in politics that you should not cross. PM targeted everyone. Then why should we not target him? He claims he is clean but look at all the scams his govt is involved in. Things change, even weather changes, then why shouldn't the government change," Banerjee said.

    "The Narendra Modi's government has an expiry date. I promise we will work together and fight together. I am taking a vow today that we will work together. Kejriwal said right things: Pakistan failed in its motive but Modi did the damage. Modi thinks he is saint and rest are corrupt."

  • 15:23 (IST)

    Narendra Modi may be chowkidaar, but Indian public is thanedaar: Tejashwi Yadav

    Shortly after arriving at the Brigade Parade grounds, RJD leader Tejashwai Yadav reiterated that the Opposition must remain united, adding that the masses will not be intimidated by the BJP's tactics.

    Narendra Modi may be the chowkidaar (watchman), but the masses are the thanedaar (station officer), says Tejashwi Yadav. "If you make a mistake, the thanedaar will make sure you see consequences," he added.

  • 15:17 (IST)

    Shatrughan Sinha urges Narendra Modi to come clean on Rafale deal or 'chowkidaar chor hai' barbs will continue

    Urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come clean about the details of the Rafale deal, Shatrughan Sinha said that unless the Centre does not speak now, they will continue to hear Congress' "chowkidaar chor hai" slogan.

    "I understand it is election time. New promises and conversations are being brought up, but no performance can be seen. There is a large gap between the BJP's promises and performance. 

  • 15:08 (IST)

    BJP's Shatrughan Sinha criticises demonetisation, GST

    BJP rebel and veteran party leader Shatrughan Sinha also addressed the gathering, and said that he has not seen such a lively and huge crowd before, and credited it to "the magic of our leader, Mamata Banerjee."

    He further criticised the BJP's plan for demonetisation and said it was announced in haste. "They announced without considering the people and other senior party leaders," he said.
     

    "Women, who had accumulated some wealth for their families' benefit by hiding cash in drawers and behind closets, were left in limbo when note ban happened. Their savings all vanished," Sinha said, adding that even before people could get over demonetisation, GST happened.

  • 15:01 (IST)

    Deve Gowda urges Opposition to create manifesto, says need to encourage public confidence by detailing action plan

    Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, whom Mamata Banerjee described as "a farmer's prime minister, not an accidental one,"  said to the crowd: "The Centre is victimising leaders of Opposition parties using all machinery"

    He further urged senior regional leaders to prepare a manifesto together to take the united Opposition forward. "I was the PM for a short time. I know that a stable nation is important to build the a country," he said to support his request.

    "We need to instill confidence among the people by telling them about our action plan," Gowda said.

  • 14:48 (IST)

    Mahagathbandhan looking for individual survival: PM

    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a crowd of his own in Silvassa, launching fresh attacks on the mahagathbandhan. "This mahagathbandhan is not just against Modi, but also against the people of this nation," he said.

    He further added that the parties are only looking to save themselves, while the BJP is looking to bring progress to the nation.

  • 14:42 (IST)

    Deve Gowda begins address

  • 14:39 (IST)

    Tejashwi Yadav 'rushing to venue'

    Bihar's Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav tweeted a photo of himself inside an aircraft, saying that he has just landed in Kolkata and is "rushing" to the Brigade Parade grounds to attend the United India rally.

  • 14:37 (IST)

    Kharge reads letter from Sonia Gandhi, says LS polls will restore democracy

    Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge read out a letter from UPA president Sonia Gandhi, which detailed the "immense strain" that India is facing. "Economically, our citizens have been squeezed, Politically, our institutions have been undermined. And socially, our fabric stands eviscerated."

    "The upcoming general elections will be on the faith of restoring democracy in our country," Kharge read from the letter.

    Continuing his speech, he said that it is essential for the Opposition to maintain unity if the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo is to be defeated. "BJP is trying to break away parties, it is trying to break everyone," he said.

    "Modi may not be corrupt personally, but he is letting his friends have all privileges," Kharge said.

    With inputs from A Ghosh, 101Reporters

  • 14:27 (IST)

    Congress' Mallikarjun Kharge begins address

  • 14:27 (IST)

    Nation fed up with BJP: Arvind Kejriwal

    Continuing the Opposition parties' attack on the prime minister, AAP chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said: "In the last five years, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's combo has finished the country. Today, the country is fed up with them."

    He added that "Modi has told lies, took votes from the youth, promised them jobs. Today, naukri (job) is a far fetched ideal, there is a job deficit and the farmers are worst hit. Farmers are committing suicide when their crops are getting destroyed. Modi and Shah tend to hand them over to insurance companies to recover their money, and these insurance companies are Modi's friends. The farmers don't get their money. The country's women are also upset because our  prime minister follows those people who abuse them on social media."

  • 14:24 (IST)

    VISUALS: Opposition presents united front

  • 14:18 (IST)

    The Narendra Modi paradox: If PM's exit is inevitable, why the show of Opposition strength?


    Arun Shourie, former Union minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet, said the country is disillusioned with the Narendra Modi government and is ready to throw him out. Speaking at the United India Rally organised by Mamata Banerjee, Shourie, a virulent critic of Modi, said it is possible to remove Modi if the Opposition is united.

    A little later, former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav said much the same thing. The SP chief said people are happy that Opposition is united, and they are ready to overthrow Modi.

    Arvind Kejriwal, the next speaker said everyone is unhappy with Modi. Be it farmers, Dalits, women, Muslims. If Modi and Shah return to power in 2019, this country won't survive, he thundered. He applauded the people for attending the rally in large numbers, and said that this indicates that Modi's days are numbered. 


    However, there is one thing that no speaker has addressed thus far: If the people of the country are so disgusted with the Modi government and have made up their collective minds to overthrow the prime minister, then what is the existential need for long-time political rivals to forget their differences and join hands? If Modi's exit is inevitable, then why this stress on unity?

    This inherent contradiction in the Opposition narrative highlights the political chasm that must be bridged with sheer arithmetic, but it also shows the potency of Modi paradox.

  • 14:12 (IST)

    GST is a fraud, says Chandrababu Naidu

  • 14:11 (IST)

    Chandrababu Naidu accuses BJP of giving false slogans

    "The BJP government betrayed the nation... they gave false slogans... this is a publicity Prime Minister, not performing Prime Minister," says Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and leader of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) N Chandrababu Naidu

  • 14:03 (IST)

    Mamata Banerjee, the emcee


    It was interesting to see West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee take up the role of emcee to direct the proceedings. The TMC supremo's dynamism and organisation skill were on display as she started the rally one hour before schedule so that every leader who have flown in for the 'United India' rally gets the time to say a few words. This is not a mean feat, considering that in India nothing starts on time.

    Mamata took up the task of calling up all the speakers one by one, starting with Hardik Patel. She was also seen interjecting at times, talking directly to the crowd when she detected restlessness.

    Her planning and execution point to the seriousness she places on the event, and her central role in organising an event of such scale sends a message that she longer will be bound within the confines of her state. 

  • 14:00 (IST)

    BJP formed gathbandhan with CBI, CVC, SP-BSP alliance has scared BJP: Akhilesh Yadav

    Launching an attack on the BJP over the ongoing infighting with the CBI, SP president Akhilesh Yadav said that the BJP has formed its own gathbandhan with the investigation agency and the CVC. 

    Speaking about the SP's alliance with the BSP, Yadav said: "Since we allied, BJP is holding meetings after meetings, to find how to win one seat in UP."

    "People used to think that an alliance is not possible but when SP and BSP tied up on 12 January, we received a good response from people around. Now, we are focusing on a bigger alliance here. Imagine, the kind to heartfelt response we'll get," he said.

    Mamata Banerjee responded immediately, saying" "You get BJP down to zero seats in UP and we'll do the same in Bengal."

    With inputs from A Ghosh, 101Reporters   

  • 13:54 (IST)

    VISUALS: Congress's Mallikarjun Kharge, BSP's Satish Mishra and SP Chief Akhilesh Yadav at opposition rally in Kolkata

  • 13:47 (IST)

    HD Kumaraswamy addresses rally amid Karnataka poaching stir

    Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy in his speech said: "Government of Karnataka waiving farmers' loans but central government issuing notices against farmers." He further accused the BJP-led government of diving the nation, and said the united Opposition will be successful as it comprises regional parties.

    "Regional parties have the strong instinct to connect with the people and protect the interests of their States," he said. 

    Kumaraswamy's speech at the United India rally comes amid a row over poaching in his home state. Kumaraswamy has been feuding with state BJP unit chief BS Yeddyurappa, who alleged that Kumaraswamy was indulging in "horse-trading" by offering money and ministerial posts to his MLAs.

    The charges of horse-trading were triggered after three Karnataka Congress MLAs visited Mumbai on Monday, reportedly along with some BJP MLAs. This was followed by the Congress' allegation that the BJP was trying to poach the ruling party's MLAs to destabilise the JDS-Congress alliance government in Karnataka.

  • 13:38 (IST)

    NDA government cannot be tolerated: BSP

    Satish Mishra of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the party which recently pushed out the Congress joined hands with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, said that the nation "cannot tolerate the NDA government any longer" because the government is "fooling the Indian people."

    "They (BJP and RSS) must be eradicated," he said.

    The Congress has appeared nonchalant about the BSP-SP alliance, with party president Rahul Gandhi saying soon after the announcement on Saturday that being left of the alliance in Uttar Pradesh was not a "setback" for the Congress, exuding confidence that the results of the elections "would surprise people".

    After Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati's press conference, Rahul had said he "won't be disappointed about the BSP-Samajwadi Party alliance as long as the BJP does not come to power", adding that contesting the elections solo would have the same end result — "the BJP won't get their seats".

  • 13:31 (IST)

    TMC rally a 'stage of contradictions', says BJP

    With the TMC's United India Rally already underway, the BJP hit back at the Opposition saying that the union that has no leader has only come about to defeat the prime minister.

    "The nation wants to know, who is their leader? Is it Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Akhilesh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav or Deve Gowda?" party leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy asked in a press conference.

  • 13:21 (IST)

    LS polls to be nation's second freedom struggle: MK Stalin

    AIADMK chief MK Stalin said that the upcoming Lok Sabha polls will be the nation's second freedom fight, adding that the BJP is only attacking the Opposition as the party is well aware that it cannot win.


    "Our only aim is BJP hatao, Modi Hatao, desh bachao," (Get rid of the BJP, Get rid of Modi, save the nation) he said. 

    Input by A Ghosh, 101 Reporters

  • 13:14 (IST)

    BJP using religion to divide nation, responsible for state of J&K, says Farooq Abdullah

    Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah accused the BJP of dividing the nation on the basis of caste and religion, and blamed it for the condition of his home state.

    "Fires are being spread in Assam in North East. We have to sacrifice, before asking people we should lead by making the sacrifice. Every community will have to make sacrifices. Look at Jammu and Kashmir. At what state has it been left in. People are being killed everywhere. And it is said that they are Pakistanis, they are traitors," he said.

    He also accused the BJP of stealing votes, and condemned the EVM system for polls. "EVMs should be destroyed because they are being used to steal votes... we should all go to the Election Commission," he said.

  • 12:54 (IST)

    Naya bharat banayenge, bhajpa ko bhagaayenge: Congress' Abhishek Manu Singhvi

    Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi lauded the Opposition parties for uniting at the TMC-led event, saying that "a rainbow of parties that has brought together different regions, languages and flavours of states."

    He also raised the slogan "Naya bharat banayenge, Bhajpa ko bhagayenge" (We will make a new India, we will force the BJP out).

    In response to the BJP's condemnation of the united Opposition, Singhvi said: "The most morally untenable alliance was what Modi did with the PDP in Kashmir. Why doesn't he talk about this 'unholy' alliance?" he asked. 

    He was referring to the BJP pulling out of its alliance with the People's Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir in April 2018. While announcing the decision, the BJP had said, "it has become untenable for the BJP to continue in the alliance government in the state". 

  • 12:51 (IST)

    VISUALS: Crowd listens to political leaders speak

  • 12:47 (IST)

    Arun Shourie slams BJP over Rafale deal

    Former BJP leader Arun Shourie brought up the controversial Rafale deal in his address, and said that "no other government has said so many lies. Never before were institutions undermined in this manner."

    Speaking about the BJP's shady dealings in terms of the defence agreement, Shourie said, "no government that destroyed the defence sector as much as this government has, no government was involved in as big a corruption scandal as this government is. Had opposition been united, they wouldn't have been able to win Gujarat."

    Shourie has been a vocal critic of the BJP government, and has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being personally responsible for the Rafale deal. he , along with Yashwant Sinha have also accused Modi of "compromising national security" by unilaterally finalising the deal, shunning every rule of military procurement.

  • 12:37 (IST)

    Former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha says BJP demolished institutions, divided nation

    Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP leader who quit the party on 21 April 2018, slammed the party in his address and accused it of "demolishing every institution in the country."

    "We are here to save democracy, Narendra Modi is not an issue for us, the nation's problems are," he said. Further accusing the government of dividing the nation, he said that any government critics will be labelled as "anti-national."

  • 12:30 (IST)

    Yashwant Sinha begins speaking

  • 12:24 (IST)

    North East will not be safe if Citizenship Bill adopted: Mizoram MP Lalduhawma

    Mizoram MP Lalduhawma while speaking to the crowd warned that India will not be suitable for residents of the North East if the Citizenship Amendment Bill is adopted. "This Bill should be withdrawn, they are interfering in our personal lives," he said.

    Input by A Ghosh, 101Reporters

  • 12:15 (IST)

    Babul Supriyo continues attack

    Continuing his attack on the TMC, BJP leader Babul Supriyo in a series of tweets claimed that Mamata Banerjee has given West Bengal is "big posters and nothing else."

    He noted that Kolkata was "flooded" with posters of the TMC supremo which "don’t have any mention of honesty, but the size of it has increased over the years!" 

  • 12:12 (IST)

    JMM's Hemant Soren says BJP governance 'worrisome'

    Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) working president Hemant Soren also addressed the gathering, and said: "There is fear in the country. The way BJP is trying to rule the country, it's worrisome."

    He said that the nation does not want the BJP government, accusing the ruling party of "spreading hate". He added that the Opposition parties together " will remove these negative forces. We will remove BJP from the entire nation."

    With inputs from A Ghosh, 101Reporters

  • 12:10 (IST)

    No revolution on an empty stomach


    Kicking off the rally at Kolkata's Brigade Parade ground, Patidar youth leader Hardik Patel greeted the crowd by saying that they are here to "save the Constitution and democracy".


    Patel was addressing a crowd that according to some estimates are expected to touch 50 lakh.

    The brilliant organiser of events that she is, Mamata Banerjee has an eye for detail. She made sure that the congregation who are here from all across Bengal to "save democracy and Constitution" stay well fed and nourished. So there were ample arrangements for the people, starting from 'chhola-muri' stall (a mixture of Bengal gram and puffed rice) to 'muri-chanachur', biscuits, sweetmeats to all arrangements for a proper lunch of khichdi, vegetables, egg curry and even chutney. All for free.

    We all know that revolution can't happen on an empty stomach. 

  • 12:03 (IST)

    Jignesh Mevani takes stage, says country in midst of crisis

    Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani spoke after Patel, and said that India is passing through an unprecedented crisis, adding that all parties have to come together to defeat the BJP and RSS.

  • 12:00 (IST)

    Netaji fought colonisers, we will fight thieves: Hardik Patel

    Addressing the crowd, Gujarat Patidar leader Hardik Patel said that just like Subhash Chandra Bose fought the British, the union of Opposition parties will fight the Narendra Modi government.

  • 11:57 (IST)

    Gujarat Patidar leader Hardik Patel begins address

  • 11:54 (IST)

    Mamata welcomes Akhilesh Yadav, MK Stalin to United India Rally

    Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and DMK chief MK Stalin arrived at the venue shortly after Mamata Banerjee. They were both received by the West Bengal chief minister.

  • 11:50 (IST)

    Kolkata traffic likely to increase ahead of rally

    As hundreds of people are marching towards the Brigade Parade ground to attend the TMC-led rally from across the city, the Kolkata traffic police took to Twitter to warn commuters of potential traffic hotspots in the city. 

  • 11:40 (IST)

    WATCH: Crowd gathers at Kolkata's Brigade Parade Grounds

    With the event only a short while away, songs with a message to "not insult Lord Ram" are being played at the venue to engage the crowd.

    Input by A Ghosh, 101Reporters

  • 11:23 (IST)

    Congress caught between supporting united Opposition and maintaining legitimacy in West Bengal


    Congress's stance at Mamata Banerjee's 'United India Rally' reflects the dilemmas that plague the concept of mahagathbandhan. On the one hand, the party's top leadership wants to lend support to the mega rally to reinforce the 'opposition is united' narrative. But on the other, the party's comatose local unit in Bengal fears that Rahul Gandhi's sharing of the stage with Mamata will divest it of the last vestiges of legitimacy.

    Between the Congress' national prerogative and local compulsion, it has tried to strike a balance. So, while Rahul and Sonia Gandhi will not be in attendance, the Congress president has sent a letter to Mamata 'didi', as a personal touch.

    However, it remains to be seen whether this delicate balancing strategy survives the rough and tumble of national politics. But, it also reflects the adjustments that non-BJP parties are making to make to stop the Modi juggernaut. 

  • 11:17 (IST)

    Who is attending Mamata Banerjee's mega rally today? 

    Among the list of politicians who will attend West Bengal chief minister's rally are Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who have also met Banerjee ahead of the event.

    Banerjee said that Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Manu Singhvi will also attend the rally.

    The most conspicuous absence from Banerjee's rally will be that of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

    Click here to read more about the attendees of today's rally.

Mamata Banerjee rally in Kolkata LATEST updates: Speaking to ANI, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the Opposition parties' united front is only to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and that they have "no future road-map for the development of India."

Reiterating the BJP's questions about who will lead the Opposition parties, he said: "Someone said in a very funny manner that our leader will be elected by the people of India, you have to name your leader to be elected by the people of India. Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamata Ji and some regional players too, all have prime ministerial ambitions.

As united Opposition leaders spoke to media, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav thanked West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for organising the United India rally, and accused the BJP of letting down the people.

"I congratulate Mamata didi for getting all of us together. The BJP has disappointed the people of the nation. They have no answers to any of our questions," he said.

Shortly after the United India rally came to a close, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took to Twitter to respond to the Opposition show of strength. "Too many saints can ruin a monastery," he wrote adding that "22 parties, a few MPs and a few prime minister aspirants...who can stop one from dreaming big?"

Emphasising the Opposition parties' unity, Mamata Banerjee said that it is 'inevitable' that a new government will be formed at the Centre, adding that this is the people's verdict.

The event concluded shortly after within chants of "badal do, badal do, Dilli mein sarkar badal do" and "Jai Hind".

Responding to the BJP's inquiry about the leader of the united Opposition front, the TMC leader said: "They are worried who will become our leader. We all are leaders here. You don't have to worry. Post elections we will decide who to become prime minister. BJP has become leaderless. That is why they have one party president and one prime minister

Saying that the Opposition party is hitting out at the Prime Minister because he has been doing the same, TMC leader Mamata Banerjee addressed the crowd in Bengali. "There is a lakshman rekha in politics that you should not cross. PM targeted everyone. Then why should we not target him? He claims he is clean but look at all the scams his govt is involved in. Things change, even weather changes, then why shouldn't the government change," Banerjee said.

"The Narendra Modi's government has an expiry date. I promise we will work together and fight together. I am taking a vow today that we will work together. Kejriwal said right things: Pakistan failed in its motive but Modi did the damage. Modi thinks he is saint and rest are corrupt."

Shortly after arriving at the Brigade Parade grounds, RJD leader Tejashwai Yadav reiterated that the Opposition must remain united, adding that the masses will not be intimidated by the BJP's tactics. He said Narendra Modi may be the chowkidaar (watchman), but the masses are the thanedaars (station officers), adding: "If you make a mistake, the thanedaars will make sure you face consequences."

Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, whom Mamata Banerjee described as "a farmers' prime minister, not an accidental one", told the crowd: "The Centre is victimising leaders of Opposition parties using all machinery". He also urged senior regional leaders to prepare a manifesto together to take the united Opposition forward. "I was the prime minister for a short time. I know that a stable nation is important to build the a country," he said. "We need to instill confidence among the people by telling them about our action plan."

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge read out a letter from UPA president Sonia Gandhi, which detailed the "immense strain" India is facing. "Economically, our citizens have been squeezed. Politically, our institutions have been undermined. And socially, our fabric stands eviscerated.... The upcoming general elections will be on the faith of restoring democracy in our country."

He added that it is essential for the Opposition to be united if the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo is to be defeated. "The BJP is trying to break away parties, it is trying to break everyone," he said. "Modi may not be corrupt personally, but he is letting his friends have all privileges."

More than 20 national leaders, including former prime minister HD Deve Gowda; former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Arun Shourie; three present chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal, N Chandrababu Naidu and HD Kumaraswamy; and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Gegong Apang; are at the rally.

Though Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi skipped the rally, the party is represented by senior Congress leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Manu Singhvi. On Friday, Rahul had written to the TMC chief, extending support to the mega rally. "We commend the great people of Bengal who have historically been at the forefront of defending our ideals. I extend my support to Mamata Di on this show of unity and hope that we send a powerful message of a united India together," the letter read.

"I have met Deve Gowda-ji, Hemant-ji (Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha) and Akhilesh Yadav. I will meet other Opposition leaders too," Banerjee told reporters. With Bharatiya Janata Party's recent defeats in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Banerjee has raised the pitch to be united against the saffron party in the 2019 general election. Bahujan Samaj Party general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, too, have already arrived. The other leaders will either arrive on Friday night or by Saturday morning, the sources said.

Large scale preparations were made to ensure the success of the rally. Besides the huge stages, 20 watch towers, 1,000 microphones and 30 LED screens have been put up so spectators can see and hear the speeches of the leaders clearly. Lakhs of TMC supporters and workers attending the rally, a huge number of them from various corners of the state, have been accommodated in the outskirts of the city and in some auditoriums and stadiums.

As many as 10,000 police personnel have been deployed and around 400 police pickets have been set up to ensure foolproof security, police said. Policemen in plain clothes, personnel of the Rapid Action Force and Quick Response Team have been deployed at the rally venue. Police postings began at 4 am, with senior officials in the rank of assistant commissioners in charge of the five daises set up for the rally, a senior police officer said.

Also, anticipating heavy rush of commuters in the wake of the TMC-led rally at the Brigade Parade Ground, the Kolkata Metro, which operates under the Ministry of Railways, beefed up its security arrangements by deploying additional forces apart from the regular contingent.

 

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 18:04:43 IST