“I’ll see you on a BJP-free dawn,” sang iconic Bengali singer Kabir Suman, former TMC MP from Jadavpur who had distanced himself from the party, but agreed to participate in the “United India Rally” at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground.
That reflected the sentiment at the event as leader after leader assailed the Modi government for destroying every institution in the country, spreading lies, tearing apart the social fabric and being a threat to Indian Constitution and democracy.
About two dozen Opposition leaders came together for the rally to take on the Narendra Modi-led government in the Lok Sabha elections due by May. A large number of people attended the rally which saw a good participation by adivasis, too.
The Trinamool Congress claimed a crowd of four million people – an unlikely figure, though the crowd was reportedly huge. Lakhs of Trinamool Congress activists and supporters from across the state have turned up in the metropolis, availing of all kinds of transport – via road, railways and waterways, said a Time of India (TOI) report.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, welcoming the leaders, took to Twitter this morning to say: “I welcome all national leaders, supporters and lakhs of people to participate in today’s rally to pledge to build a stronger, progressive and united India.”
More than 20 national political leaders, including former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Arun Shourie; three present chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal, Chandrababu Naidu and HD Kumaraswamy; and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Gegong Apang attended the meeting.
Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Ajit Singh and Jayant Chowdhury (both RLD), Hemant Soren of JMM, Patidar movement leader Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and Mizoram opposition leader Pu Lalduhoma, besides Loktantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav and Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha also attended the rally.
Speaking to reporters earlier, Mamata Banerjee had said, “It will be a historic mega rally. It will be a platform of all political parties to drive the BJP out. The nation will hear from leaders of different parties. The rally will mark the death knell for BJP. We (TMC) will hear what all parties have to say. Every political party has its own vision and ideology. We will not thrust our opinion on others. Let the leaders decide. This time regional parties will be the decision-maker.”
She added, “BJP will not get more than 125 seats this time. I do not know how many seats Congress will get. Congress is sending (Mallikarjun) Kharge ji and Abhishek Manu Singhvi for the rally.”
The West Bengal chief minister has arranged for a tea party for her guests at 4 pm after the rally gets over. The venue is Soujanya, a new state government guest house, modelled after New Delhi’s Hyderabad House. The leaders are likely to address the media about their deliberations post tea party.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi stayed away since, according to a PTI report, West Bengal Congress had wanted the Gandhis to stay away from the rally and send in another leader as Banerjee had also skipped the swearing-in ceremony of Kamal Nath as Madhya Pradesh chief minister last month and had instead sent party MP Dinesh Trivedi.
Leaders from CPM and CPI also did not attend the rally and, according to a NDTV report, they were not invited for it too.
Others absent were Odisha chief minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik and Telangana chief minister and Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TSR) chief K Chandrashekar Rao.
“We would stick to our policy of equi-distance from both the Congress and the BJP. We are more concerned about Odisha’s development,” Rajya Sabha member and BJD spokesperson Pratap Keshari Deb said.
TSR chief, Rao, had met Banerjee last month but refused to share stage with Congress.
Notably, though, all these absentees have also been speaking against BJP in much the same vein as the leaders at Kolkata rally.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, while staying away, wrote to Mamata Banerjee yesterday extending support for the rally and efforts for Opposition unity: “Across India, there are powerful forces afoot. Forces that are fanned by the anger and disappointment of hundreds of millions of Indians who have seen through the false promises and lies peddled by the Modi Government. These forces are moved by the hope of a new tomorrow; a tomorrow filled with the idea of an India in which the voice of every man, woman and child will be heard and respected no matter what their religion, economic status or region.
“The entire opposition is united in our belief that true nationalism and development can only be defended on the tested pillars of democracy, social justice and secularism, ideas that the BJP and Mr Modi are intent on destroying.
“We commend the great people of Bengal who have historically been at the forefront of defending our ideals.
“I extend my support to Mamata Di on this show of unity and hope that we send a powerful message of a united India together.
From Tamil Nadu, DMK chief MK Stalin said: “This is the second freedom struggle. The elections will serve as a platform to get rid of the Modi government. Modi had claimed that there is no opposition in India; today he is talking only about opposition. He is scared, he is scared that we will dethrone the BJP from power. This BJP government is not for commoners, it’s for corporates. Rafale deal is a case of corruption. Vijay Mallya left India with the help of this government, Sushma Swaraj helped Nirav Modi flee the country.”
He added, “If Narendra Modi comes to power again, India will go back 50 years. I thank Mamata for organizing this rally against the BJP government. Modi fears few people, Mamata Banerjee is one of them. Modi and Amit Shah fear to enter Kolkata and that’s because of Mamata. She is an Iron Lady, she had immense respect for our leader Kalaingar. Our unity will defeat Modi, our unity will save India.”
From Kashmir there was National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, who told the crowd: “After 70 years, India has yet another challenge. That people are being divided on religious lines. Fire is being spread in the northeast (a reference to Citizenship Amendment Bill). If you want to save this country, everyone has to sacrifice something.
“We will have to unite to save the country. I am a Muslim, but a part of Hindustan, and every Kashmiri, be it from Jammu and Ladakh, wants to stay with India. In the last four years, the current government has given us problems from all sides. We have to finish the BJP, and for that, it is important to fight the elections together. We should approach the Election Commission, meet the President and say we want ballot papers. This year, we want a new government that plays fair with institutions, in which we can all co-exist. India can be strengthened not by the Air Force or Army but only if our hearts are strong.”
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said: “Just like medicines have expiry dates, the time has come for the Modi government to leave. Bengal has shown the way during Independence and it continues showing the same. So many scandalous things have happened in this country. You should see the amount of money this government had five years ago and what it has now.”
“The Modi government tends to take the credit for the works done by the state government. The state government is not being allowed to work under this government. The weather changes, everything changes, then why can’t this Modi government change? Modi government targetting the opposition is simply an act of vendetta. Everyone has to come together. Collective leadership is very important. Modi asks who is going to be our leader. We have several leaders – everybody is a leader, everyone is an organiser in our alliance. We are holding a meeting here, am sure all the ‘agencies’ are holding a meeting in Delhi.”
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said. “Bengal will show the way to the rest of the nation. They tease us saying they have so many PM hopefuls, but who will be the one? The public will decide who will be our PM. We ask you who failed you, who upset the country and its people, who played dirty games and spread hatred, it’s the BJP. When they promised sabka saath sabka vikas, they tried to poison your society. Modi’s message is a message of hate.”
Taking over from Yadav, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal said: “In the last five years, PM Modi and Amit Shah’s combo has finished the country. Today, the country is fed up with them. Modi has told lies, took votes from the youth, promised them jobs. Today, naukri (job) is a far fetched ideal, there is a job deficit and the farmers are worst hit. Farmers are committing suicide when their crops are getting destroyed. PM Modi and Shah tend to hand them over to insurance companies to recover their money, and these insurance companies are Modi’s friends. The farmers don’t get their money. The country’s women are also upset because our PM follows those people who abuse them on social media.”
Former MP SharadYadav said: “Not one institution is left, which has not been destroyed by the current govt at Centre.”
Congress leader and Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said: “The country at large is under immense strain. Economically, citizens have been stripped. Politically, institutions have been undermined. We need to defeat the forces that are trying to sabotage the Constitution of India. This rally marks an important attempt to galvanize the leaders to fight the arrogant Modi government. This is the message given by Sonia Gandhi on behalf of Congress. Until we are one, we will not be able to fight this government. I appeal to all leaders to unite to save our democracy. Farmers are dying but PM Modi is feeding people like Anil Ambani. Instead of jobs being created, jobs have been lost and unemployment is rising under Modi’s rule. The government has failed the country through demonetisation and Rafale fraud.”
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “Clouds are parting. A rainbow of political parties is forming. The time for a coalition has arrived. The Modi government is intolerant of any criticism. PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah’s motive is to mislead the public and get votes. I applaud Mamata di’s efforts to bring everyone together on one platform.”
“The policies of this BJP-led central government need to end. Today, there is a feeling of fear in the country there is a feeling of vengeance. We have to come forward to stand against it as one. The Prime Minister, BJP and Amit Shah are afraid today. That’s why they keeping on poking fun at this grand alliance.”
Former Union Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said: “I thank Mamata ji for inviting me to this event. We have gathered here to defeat one person- Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We are here to protest against a certain set of ideas and ideologies. This is the first government who enjoys playing with facts and figures. Those who oppose the government are not anti-nationals.”
Sinha added, “Today there isn’t one democratic institution that the current dispensation hasn’t destroyed. The country’s economy is in doldrums, this is the first government that plays around and exaggerates facts and figures. You all know what the ground reality is and that the government wants to divide society and country.”
Taking over, former Union Minister Arun Shourie says: “No other government has said so many lies. Never before were institutions undermined in this manner”
Shatrughan Sinha, who is formally still in BJP, said: “I am not talking to you as the representative of the BJP, but at the moment I have come under the leadership of Yashwant Sinha, who has just created Rashtra Manch. It is not a political party, it is a movement. The issue of most of the people who have come here is not Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Our issues are demonetisation, complicated GST, among others.”
About Mamata Banerjee, he said: “She is a national leader in true sense. She is really a tried, tested and experienced leader… Still there is time for people to see the writing on the wall. There is a long gap between performances and promises. That gap needs to be handled well. The people will decide who will be the next Prime Minister, it is not our job. It is not going to be between have and have not. It is going to be between the performer, non-performer and between arrogance and people’s power.”
“We are here to give a new direction to the country. We are here to take the views of NEWS (North East West South) of United India. The mood of the country is one and is towards development. There is too much of life among the younger generation. I cannot compromise with principles. Before BJP, I belong to this country (on talks of getting removed from the party). If speaking the truth is rebellious, then I am a rebel. Demonetisation was not the party’s decision. People could not overcome the effects of demonetisation that the government decided to roll out the Goods and Service Tax. Several traders were hit badly by the decision.”
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said: “If you do not bow before the government, it will use the central agencies against you. The Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation are BJP’s alliance partners. We have to save the country. Modi will get sleepless nights after this opposition meet. I thank Mamata ji on behalf of my father Lalu Prasad Yadav too. If the country’s ‘chowkidaar’ commits a mistake, then the ‘thanedaar’ will punish you.”
Former Arunachal Pradesh CM Gegong Apang, who recently quit the BJP, said: “The last four years have been testing times for Indian democracy.”
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha working president Hemant Soren said: “All opposition parties are against hate politics. The manner in which the country is running is dangerous for the nation. I want to thank Mamata di for taking the initiative to organise this meeting.”
Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani said, “The country is passing through an unprecedented crisis. All parties have to come together to defeat BJP and RSS.”
Addressing the crowd, Patidar leader Hardik Patel said, “This meeting is to save the Constitution of India. Together we can save this country.”
From Andhra Pradesh, Telugu Desam chief and chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu said: “Except one or two opposition parties who are neutral or have their own reservations all parties are coming together. Ultimately this meeting will set up new agenda for 2019 general elections. The NDA government has betrayed the nation and has failed on all fronts, misused all institutions and constitutional bodies. We are coming together to protect the nation. Banerjee and other leaders are experienced and focused and are capable of deciding the future course.”
Addressing the crowd, he said: “Today is a historic day. We have only one ambition- Save India, Save Democracy. We have to unite India; BJP is trying to divide India. The BJP and NDA have betrayed the nation. This government is doing fraud by paying extra for 36 jets. It has misled the nation in this case. After note ban, ATMs have remained closed and no money is available in the bank. This government is not controlling inflation but interfering in federal work. If you misbehave in Karnataka, you will pay a heavy price.”
Karnataka CM and Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy said: “You wait for some time, you will get a proper leader for future development of this country. At this juncture all the party leaders should leave their personal agenda and come together to save the country.”