More than 20 national political leaders on Saturday attended West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's United India Rally at Kolkata's Brigade Parade Ground. The event was organised with the aim to unite Opposition parties against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The attendees included 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, among others. All the leaders addressed the gathering, which some estimated to be at over 50 lakh, and noted the BJP government's missteps in its four years of being in power.
Mamata says Opposition's PM candidate to be revealed after polls
The Trinamool Congress chief was the last to address the gathering. Asserting that the "expiry date" of the Modi government was here and a united Opposition will win the upcoming general elections, she promised to work with other Opposition parties.
Noting that the present situation in the country is of a "Super Emergency", Mamata said it is worse than the one imposed by Indira Gandhi and raised the slogan of 'Badal do, badal do, Delhi mein sarkar badal do' (change the government).
Addressing the BJP's concerns about who will lead the united Opposition in the Lok Sabha election, she said the prime ministerial candidate will be decided after the polls.
Mamata spoke for nearly 25 minutes as the rally neared its end. She claimed the BJP does not respect many of its own senior leaders, and that politicians like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari were ignored in the saffron party. "Modi and his associates are now talking about a collective leadership, but if the BJP wins the Lok Sabha polls, these leaders will be ignored again," she said.
'Sabka saath, sabka vinash': BJP rebels bear down on government
Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, who had quit the party on 21 April, 2018, came down heavily on the Narendra Modi government, saying this was the first government after Independence that has been playing "mischief" with development statistics.
"After Independence, this is the first government that has been presenting decorated and inflated developmental statistics to befool people," said Yashwant, who served in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Cabinet, referring to the NITI Aayog downgrading the GDP growth rate during the UPA tenure.
He also rephrased the government's slogan of "sabka saath, sabka vikas" and said the actual slogan was "sabka saath, sabka vinash". Yashwant clarified that he has no personal vendetta against the Centre, but only wanted to ensure that the "anti-people" government is ousted from power.
He was followed by former Union minister Arun Shourie, who urged the Opposition to work together to throw out the BJP government at the Centre in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. He said Opposition parties should unitedly pitch single candidates against BJP contestants to win the polls.
"It will not be an easy task, pitching a single Opposition candidate in each seat against the BJP. But we must sacrifice for the country, with a sense of love for it," said Shourie, who also was a minister in the Vajpayee government.
A vocal critic of the BJP, Shourie has previously accused the prime minister of being personally responsible for the Rafale deal. He, along with Yashwant, have also accused the prime minister of "compromising national security" by unilaterally finalising the deal, shunning every rule of military procurement.
Rahul, Sonia Gandhi skip event, send Mallikarjun Kharge with letter instead
While Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi did not attend the United India Rally, Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge represented the party at the rally. He read out a letter penned by Sonia, 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," Kharge read from the letter. "The upcoming general elections will be on the faith of restoring democracy in our country."
Continuing his speech, he said it is essential for the Opposition to maintain unity if the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo is to be defeated. "The BJP is trying to break parties; it is trying to break everyone," he said. "Modi may not be corrupt personally, but he is letting his friends have all privileges."
Deve Gowda calls for Opposition manifesto
Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda said with the general elections close at hand, Opposition parties should forget their differences and come together to fight the BJP unitedly. The Janata Dal (Secular) supremo said a small group of senior leaders should be formed to decide on a roadmap on how they will ensure good governance.
The herculean task of seat-sharing for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections has to be addressed to ensure a direct fight against the BJP, he said. "A stable government is needed to build a strong nation, but after getting 282 seats in the 2014 elections, Narendra Modi, instead, of building a strong nation, wants to destroy the secular nature of the country and destroy all constitutional institutions," Gowda said.
He further 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."
Referring to the often asked question on who follow Modi in the prime minister's office, he said Opposition leaders must be confident of being able to form a stable government for five years, and the leaders congregated at the rally must ensure this.
Shatrughan Sinha attacks BJP; party 'takes cognisance'
After senior BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha launched an attack on the Centre over various issues, including the Rafale deal, the party said that it will "take cognisance" of his presence at the rally and termed the actor-turned-politician an "opportunist".
Addressing a press conference at the party office in New Delhi, BJP national spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Shatrughan was in the party to enjoy the perks of being an MP, but at the same time was seen making different voices at various platforms.
"Shatrughan has been speaking against the party at various platforms. And it is always important for the BJP to act against such people and the party will take cognisance of it," Rudy said.
Taking a dig at Shatrughan, Rudy added that some people are "intelligent in different ways". They abide by the party's whip so that they don't lose their membership. "At the same time, they are so opportunistic... and can be present at any conclave. The BJP will take cognisance of it," he said.
Shatrughan has spoken against the BJP top leadership on a number of occasions, which provoked Bihar's deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi earlier this week. Sushil Modi had suggested that Shatrughan should quit the party.
'Defeat the dangerous BJP government'
Among the others who addressed the rally were Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, DMK chief MK Stalin, Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.
MK Stalin said the upcoming general elections will be akin to the second freedom struggle for the people of India to fight against the "radical Hinduism" of the BJP. Criticising the central government, Stalin also accused it of working for corporate houses. "If Modi is back in power, the country will go back 50 years," he claimed.
Kumaraswamy said India is one of the strongest democracies in the world, "but today, we are witnessing a day where the democratic government (at the Centre) is headed by some undemocratic persons". He also said that demonetisation had taken a toll on the poor and those in the rural areas were the most affected.
"It is unfortunate that the Union government has turned deaf and mute to the needs of the people of the country," Kumaraswamy said. "The present government gives incentives, tax rebates and subsidies to industries, but farmers are treated differently."
Akhilesh Yadav claimed that the coming together of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party had led to a wave of happiness in the country and left a worried BJP to hold meeting after meeting to devise a strategy to win even one seat in Uttar Pradesh. Attacking the BJP over the infighting in the CBI, Akhilesh said the BJP had formed its "own gathbandhan" with the investigative agency and the Central Vigilance Commission.
Furthermore, Chandrababu Naidu said the BJP had betrayed the people of the country by reneging on all the promises it had made before the 2014 general election. He said the BJP has failed on its promises of forming a corruption-free government, on bringing back black money from foreign shores and doubling farmers' income, among several other assurances.
Reiterating Naidu's statement, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal called upon the people of India to defeat the "dangerous BJP government" at the Centre at any cost.
Farooq Abdullah, Hardik Patel among several other speakers
Patidar leader Hardik Patel said all non-BJP parties had united to defeat the BJP government. "We must save our country and democracy for the welfare of the nation," he said. Stating that Opposition parties are fighting against "thieves", he said just like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had fought the Britishers, the Opposition is fighting against "thieves".
Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani said the coming together of so many Opposition leaders at TMC's rally sends a message for change in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha working president Hemant Soren added to the attack, accusing the ruling party of "spreading hate". He said Opposition parties together "will remove these negative forces" and "remove the BJP from the entire nation".
National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah batted for the ballot system for the election. Accusing the BJP of stealing votes, he called EVMs "chor machines" and demanded that the ballot paper system be brought back for the sake of transparency.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi clarified that the aim of the "rainbow alliance" was to defeat the BJP and form a secular government. "Never before have we seen such vendetta politics... When Amit Shah held 100 rallies in Uttar Pradesh, no one questioned him, but when the RJD organised a rally, it got an income tax notice," he said.
The event concluded with Mamata's speech and chants of "badal do, badal do, Dilli mein sarkar badal do" and "Jai Hind".
BJP hits back
The ruling party hit back at the Opposition's barbs, calling the united Opposition rally "a rally of self interest and conflicting ideologies". The BJP also expressed confidence of forming the next government in the country.
At his press conference, Rudy called the rally an anti-Modi exercise and said the party was not threatened by such events.
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya took to Twitter to comment on the Opposition's show of strength, saying that while Opposition parties continue to be embroiled in scams, the Narendra Modi government continues to have a clean rap sheet.
Shortly after the United India Rally came to a close, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also commented on the Opposition show of strength on Twitter. "Too many saints can ruin a monastery," he wrote, adding that "Twenty-two parties, a few MPs and a few prime minister aspirants... Who can stop one from dreaming big?"
The prime minister himself hit back at the united Opposition while addressing a gathering at Silvassa in Gujarat: "This mahagathbandhan is not just against Modi, but also against the people of this nation."
He added that Opposition parties were only looking to save themselves, while the BJP was looking to bring progress to the nation. Taking a dig at Mamata without naming her, he said the BJP has only one MLA in the state, "but still they are so afraid of us that they are saying 'bachao' (save us)".
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 19:32:25 IST