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Eye on 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata draws up itinerary to meet regional leaders

With several parties expressing their desire to form a front, the Trinamool Congress also clarified that even as this grouping takes shape, the leadership question will be kept open.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2018 07:23 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee leaves after meeting Congress leader Sonia Gandhi at her residence in New Delhi  on March 28, 2018.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee leaves after meeting Congress leader Sonia Gandhi at her residence in New Delhi on March 28, 2018. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

Basking in the success of her meetings with leaders in Delhi, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has chalked out travel plans to reach out to more regional satraps to mop up maximum support for a federal, anti-BJP front for 2019.

With several parties expressing their desire to form a front, the Trinamool Congress also clarified that even as this grouping takes shape, the leadership question will be kept open.

Banerjee is set to travel to Chennai next month to meet Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam patriarch M Karunanidhi and then to Lucknow to meet the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav. Banerjee, who shares a good rapport with her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal, also plans to connect with the Rashtriya Janata Dal leadership in the next few weeks.

“With spontaneity and warmth, Mamata Banerjee met leaders across the political canvas on her pro-constitution, pro-India and pro-people mission to save the nation. She will go to Chennai on April 10 to meet Karunanidhi. More thereafter,” said TMC’s Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien.

Read | Mamata calls on Sonia Gandhi, meets Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan

Banerjee, who heads the fourth largest party in Parliament with 46 MPs (34 in the Lok Sabha and the rest in the Rajya Sabha), has emphasised the need to emulate the model of the recent bypolls in Uttar Pradesh where an alliance of the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party. “As it happened in UP, the strongest party in each constituency should be backed by other parties to ensure a one-on-one fight,” she said in Delhi.

Banerjee has met leaders such as Sharad Pawar (NCP), Ramgopal Yadav (SP) and Misa Bharti (RJD), and her close confidantes claim that many leaders don’t want to commit to the Congress on the question on leadership, even as it is impossible to form a front without the principal Opposition party.

Read | Can Mamata Banerjee unite the anti-BJP Opposition?

The Congress said talks about leadership are premature and the objective should be to oust the present regime. “The battle for 2019 will be to preserve the founding vision of India. All people and forces who believe in this inclusive policy and idea of India have to come together and defeat the incumbent government. The objective is not about who will take the leadership position,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said.

Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the largest left party, the CPI(M (the TMC’s bitter rival in West Bengal), said in a recent interview to HT that in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the situation would be like 1996 — when the Congress supported the Third Front government from outside — or the 2004 when the Congress led the government but was supported (from the outside) by the Left.

Banerjee met United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi but didn’t meet Congress president Rahul Gandhi on her latest trip to the capital — a clear indication that she wants to keep a distance from the Congress chief when talks about federal front have gained momentum. Banerjee’s confidantes added that she has no political baggage but can reach out to arch rivals of Congress like AAP or BJD.

“Everything will depend on the tally of different parties. The leadership will be decided when the situation comes,” said a senior Opposition leader who asked not to be identified.

Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “Mamataji has been associated with the Congress ideology from her Youth Congress days. The fight today is for preserving the country’s institutions, democracy, social fabric and economy. It is not a fight between parties but for values that represent India and the idea of India. In this fight, all Opposition parties are welcome to join hands with Rahulji, Soniaji and the Congress. We will fight this battle together despite differences of opinion because the nation is bigger than any party.”