BJP is turning country into ‘surveillance state’: Mamata
Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, who has been under attack from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over post-poll violence in West Bengal, mounted her counter-offensive on Wednesday, accusing the BJP-led central government of turning the country into a “surveillance state” and appealing to regional parties to come together to form an opposition front to defeat the BJP in 2024 general elections.
Banerjee also asked the Supreme Court to take cognisance of allegations that the central government could have used Israeli spyware Pegasus to target prominent politicians, journalists, constitutional authorities and even sitting ministers.
“Pegasus is bigger than Watergate,” she said, referring to the Watergate scandal that led to US President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
“I definitely know that my phone was tapped… Only the judiciary can save democracy. Oust spying and save the nation,” Banerjee said in an hour-long virtual address on the TMC’s martyrs’ day, the party’s annual event in memory of 13 party workers killed in police firing on a protest she led as a Youth Congress leader in Kolkata on July 21, 1993. She founded the TMC five years later, in 1998.
Over the years, the martyr’s day rally has emerged as a platform from which Banerjee sends out messages and declares future plans. She appeared to have stuck to this format on Wednesday as she issued a public appeal to opposition parties across the country to start working together for the national elections right away and promised free ration across the country if the alliance wins.
Mamata Banerjee also suggested that she wasn’t looking for a key role for herself.
“I am a worker. I will follow you and your instructions. Chairs do not last forever but love of the people lives on,” she said, a remark seen as her counter to critics who believe that she sees herself as a potential prime ministerial candidate.
Like last year, Mamata Banerjee addressed people virtually due to the Covid pandemic but for the first time, giant screens were installed in public places and TMC offices not only in West Bengal but also in states such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Tripura.
Trinamool leaders have been speaking about plans to expand the party’s footprint to states outside Bengal after her party’s spectacular victory against the BJP in the Bengal assembly elections.
Banerjee also made the effort to reach out to her potential audience outside Bengal and didn’t just speak in Bengali but English and Hindi as well.
In Delhi, leaders of several opposition parties assembled at the constitution club in the heart of the city to listen to her speech. Among those present were former finance minister P Chidambaram and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.
“I don’t know what will happen in 2024 but we have to start our planning now… We will not be defeated. I am confident we will win,” she said.
“Only two and a half years are left until the elections. Let us form an alliance and show the path to the nation,” Banerjee said to her potential allies.
Banerjee said her party will invite regional leaders to a rally at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade grounds after the pandemic. For now, Banerjee said, she will be in Delhi on July 27 to 29 and asked Sharad Pawar to convene a meeting. “Mr Prime Minister please don’t disturb us,” she added quickly, a swipe at the Centre over the snooping row.
“I cannot call up Sharad Pawar ji, P Chidambaram, the Delhi chief minister or the Odisha chief minister because my phone is tapped. See I have put a plaster on the camera of my phone. Instead of a democratic state you (BJP) want to have a surveillance state,” Banerjee said, holding up her phone which had a brown tape over the lens.
“Before the assembly polls, I was in a meeting with our party leaders. My phone was there. They recorded everything,” she said.
“Modi ji I am not criticising you as a person but you and Amit Shah ji have only come up with dark laws. You only want violence and disturbance. India is the land of Swami Vivekananda, Nehru, A P J Abdul Kalam and Bhagat Singh. India needs development and integrity. But all we can see is despair and instability,” said Banerjee.
The first response to Mamata Banerjee came from the Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh who spent the day at a protest at Rajghat in the national capital to remember the lives of BJP workers killed in Bengal since 2008.
“Mamata Banerjee’s government uses Pegasus to snoop on people and opposition leaders. She has a better idea about the technology,” Ghosh said in Delhi as he reiterated the BJP’s attack on the Banerjee government for the violence that followed after TMC’s win in early May.
Mamata Banerjee rebutted the accusation in her speech. “Nothing happened after the polls. Some BJP members became NHRC members and submitted (to the Calcutta high court) a biased report,” she said.
Referring to her election slogan ‘khela hobe’ (let’s play), Banerjee declared that the TMC will observe August 16 as Khela Divas. “Khela will take place in all states until the BJP is ousted from the country,” she said.