There have been many examples in the past when political fortunes changed overnight, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, adding that if Opposition parties seriously worked together “six months is enough”.
Ms. Banerjee was addressing a select gathering of journalists in Delhi. She is here on a five-day tour, her first visit since winning the West Bengal Assembly polls for a third time.
Now we want to see ‘sacche din’ (days of truth). For long we have endured the ‘achhe din’ (the Bharatiya Janata Party’s slogan),” Ms. Banerjee said. “It is going to be Narendra Modi versus the nation,” she added.
Ms. Banerjee said, “Khela hobe (the game is on; the Trinamool Congress slogan for the West Bengal election) will ring through the nation.”
She said that there had been many precedents in Indian democracy when popular leaders lost their mandate overnight. “What happened in 1977? Indira Gandhi was voted out. Atal Behari Vajpayee lost his popularity within a year. There are many such precedents in our democracy,” she said.
“If you [the Opposition] are serious, all you need is six months,” she added. She evaded questions on the contours of such a unified Opposition and who would lead it. “I am not a political astrologer. It depends on the situation. I have no problem if someone else leads,” she said.
At the same time, she asserted that talks had to begin after the Parliament’s Monsoon Session.
She also refused to answer questions on the role the Congress would play in a unified Opposition. “Congress president Sonia Gandhi too wants to have an united Opposition,” Ms. Banerjee said.
The TMC met Ms. Gandhi in the evening.
So far, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress have maintained a distance from the Opposition bloc in Parliament. Answering a question on whether talks were on to bring them on board, Ms. Banerjee said, “I maintain good relations with both Mr. Patnaik and Mr. Reddy. Today, they may not be with us but who can say that this will not change tomorrow.”
“When a political storm blows, it’s very difficult to contain,” she added.
At the same time, Ms. Banerjee dodged questions on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who returned to the National Democratic Alliance in 2017, and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, saying it was a question for them to answer. “If the Opposition parties in U.P. want to stop the BJP, then they will have to work together,” she said.
“I want to help all regional and national parties bell the cat,” Ms. Banerjee added, in an apparent reference to the BJP. “If the leaders come together, workers too shall unite.”
Quoting the example of Uttar Pradesh, which will go to polls early next year, she asked if people could forget the visuals of bodies floating in the Ganga, or instances when “family members of COVID-19 victims had to run around for cremation”. She asked, “Those who couldn’t give a proper funeral to their loved ones, can they vote for Modi? They may have been his supporters yesterday, but will they remain his supporters today?”
Ms. Banerjee said it was wrong to term the Pegasus malware issue as esoteric “since everyone has a mobile phone today”. West Bengal is the first State to institute an enquiry into the Pegasus cyber attack.
“Why is the government not taking suo motu action? They can send CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and ED (Enforcement Directorate) for raids everywhere, then why not for this?” she asked.
“The Pegasus cyber attack is not only about privacy, it’s about life and property, too. In a democracy, the government has to respond. And this situation is more serious than even the Emergency,” Ms. Banerjee said.
She refused to reply to questions over speculation that her political strategist Prashant Kishor was joining the Congress saying he was capable of fielding such questions himself. “He [Mr. Kishor] has freedom of choice to decide where to go and where to work,” Ms. Banerjee said.