Mamata calls on PM, seeks all-party meet on Pegasus
“The Lok Sabha election is a long way from now -- but the planning has to be done in advance,” West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said on the secondday of her five-day visit to the national capital, explicitly stating what many see as one of the main objectives of her visit, the first after her party returned to power in the state, defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On Tuesday, she met three senior Congress leaders, Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma and Abhishek Singhvi. Party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee and poll strategist Prashant Kishor were also present in some of the meetings. According to one of the leaders who met her, the meetings were primarily focused on ways to strengthen Opposition unity. She is scheduled to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday for what she called “chai pe charcha” (a conversation over tea).
Amid furious protests over the targeting of phones of journalists, politicians, activists, businessmen, and others using military grade spyware Pegasus, Banerjee said after her meeting with the PM that the government should call an all-party meeting and supported calls for a Supreme Court monitored probe.
“I sought time from the PM after winning for the third time with the blessings of the people,” she said, adding that the two chatted for “more than half an hour” and that Prime Minister Modi was in a “good mood”. A Trinamool leader said that Modi even asked Banerjee if she is still walking 20 km a day, to which the chief minister replied that she now walks only 18 km a day.
During her interaction with the Prime Minister, Banerjee sought more vaccine doses for her state. The TMC claims that as against a quota of 7.5 million doses, Bengal, with a population of 110 million people, has received only 2.3 million doses thus far in July. “I also asked him to expedite the change in name of West Bengal (to Bangla) since the proposal has been pending for more than three years.” The two leaders also discussed the Pegasus issue.
While the PM-CM meeting was more about the state’s development issues, Banerjee’s Delhi visit is also aimed at consolidating her position in the Opposition camp and to explore the possibilities of more Opposition unity with an eye on the 2024 general election.
“I am always hopeful of an Opposition unity. We will definitely have a meeting of all Opposition parties but only after Covid subsides. Soniaji has called me tomorrow over tea. We will have chai pe charcha,” the Bengal CM said, riffing off the series of events Modi held under that branding ahead of the 2014 polls.
Banerjee will not go to the Central Hall of Parliament as reported in some quarters, but she is expected to meet Shiv Sena leaders, the Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar and other opposition leaders.
When reminded about how personal aspirations have often ruined grand alliances, she evaded talk of leadership issues and quipped, “The country will lead.”