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‘Testing times for democracy’: Opposition slams NDA government at Mamata rally

One former prime minister, three chief ministers, six former chief ministers and five former Union ministers will be attending the Mamata Banerjee-hosted United India Rally in Kolkata on Saturday.

lok sabha elections Updated: Jan 19, 2019 13:08 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Mamata Banerjee,Opposition Rally,Unity
Mamata Banerjee-hosted United India Rally in Kolkata on Saturday.(ANI Photo)

One former prime minister, three chief ministers, six former chief ministers and five former Union ministers are attending a mega rally hosted by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade ground.

On stage along with Banerjee, who arrived around 11am, are former prime minister and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) chief H D Deve Gowda, former Uttar Pradesh CM and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, former Maharashtra CM and ex-Union minister Sharad Pawar and former Arunachal Pradesh CM Gegong Apang. Omar Abdullah of the National Conference Party landed at the Kolkata airport a short while ago.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi will not be attending the rally but had extended support through a letter to Mamata yesterday. “A rainbow of 22 parties is replacing dark clouds hovering over the country,” party leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is representing the Congress at the rally, said.

The Bengal chief minister invited Patidar leader Hardik Patel to be the first speaker at the rally, followed by Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani.

“Subhas Chandra Bose had given slogan to fight against ‘goro’ (Britishers), we are fighting against ‘choro’ (thieves),” Patel at said while addressing the public.

Meanwhile, Pu Lalduhoma of Zoram Nationalist Party of Mizoram claimed that minorities were not safe under the NDA government.

In the audience are singers, poets and personalities from the Bengali film and television industry.

Roads leading to the Brigade Parade ground are clogged with processions and vehicles carrying people to the rally.

Lakhs of people have arrived for the opposition’s show of strength and many are waiting outside of the venue. “The crowd will surpass all earlier records,” said minister and senior Trinamool leader.

“The country is waiting for a new Prime Minister,” said Akhilesh Yadav on his arrival.

“We have understood that Mamata Banerjee has taken all initiatives to bring all of us together,” said Deve Gowda.

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Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge arrived on Saturday morning.

As a welcome gesture, Trinamool Congress (TMC) has put up flexes and posters containing photos of these regional leaders on road dividers from the airport to the rally venue at the heart of the city.

Featuring in these flexes are the likes of former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Farooq and his son Omar Abdullah of National Conference (NC), Tejashwi Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), former Union minister and Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) chief Sharad Yadav and Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M K Stalin.

Former Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi, senior Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Satish Chandra Mishra, former BJP ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Ram Jethmalani and dissenter BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha also arrived today.

“For the first time, all regional parties will be coming under one umbrella. It’s going to be a historic event and millions of people will be present to witness it. This rally will mark the beginning of a New India,” said TMC’s virtual second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee, the chief minister’s nephew and the party’s youth wing chief.

Also Read | ‘Country waiting for new prime minister’: Akhilesh Yadav before mega Opposition rally in Kolkata

According to leaders of Bengal’s ruling party, they want to make leaders of regional parties feel at home. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself has said that she would prefer to play the role of a listener.

“Leaders of all regional parties will deliver speeches. We would not like to talk much. I am waiting in eagerness to listen to them,” Banerjee said on Thursday while checking the arrangements at the venue.

She met Pawar, Apang and Deve Gowda soon after they arrived in Kolkata.

Saturday’s rally is scheduled to start at 12 noon. Mamata will host a tea party for the leaders in the evening.

TMC, by bagging 34 Lok Sabha seats, emerged as the third largest party in the Parliament in 2014. This year, Mamata Banerjee has set her eyes on winning all of Bengal’s 42 seats to ensure it maintains the status of the third largest party, and more importantly, the largest among all regional parties.

Over the past few weeks, Abhishek Banerjee has repeatedly urged people to vote for Mamata Banerjee to ensure TMC has enough seats to give Bengal the first Prime Minister from the state.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s state unit chief Dilip Ghosh mocked the TMC for putting up placards containing photos of regional party leaders.

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“TMC has put up photos of leaders some of who are tired while others are retired. Is this Didi’s army? She wants to win this battle with generals who have been trounced on their own turf?” Ghosh said on the eve of the rally.

He argued that TMC wanted to create a perception that all these leaders wanted to see Mamata Banerjee as the Prime Minister.

“TMC is inviting so many parties because its own leaders have lost the ability to attract crowds. Its proactive role in national politics is only to divert attention from the point that its own ship is sinking,” Ghosh said.

First Published: Jan 19, 2019 07:34 IST

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