“Oust Modi,” was the leitmotif of speeches at the rally, held ahead of the Lok Sabha elections this year. “The country is waiting for a new Prime Minister,” said Akhilesh Yadav as he arrived at the venue.
Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, took over as master of ceremonies at a mega rally of opposition leaders at Kolkata’s massive brigade ground, where lakhs gathered to hear them speak. The speeches were dominated by attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP, which has dismissed the opposition show of strength as an “anti-Modi stunt.”
On stage in Kolkata, Banerjee called leaders to give their short speeches, introducing each of them. The first two speakers at the “united India rally” were young Gujarat leaders Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has skipped the rally, but sent two emissaries and a letter of support. Mayawati too is not attending, with senior party leader Satish Mishra representing her Bahujan Samaj Party. But her new partner Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party is on stage, as are one former prime minister, three chief ministers, six former chief ministers and five former Union ministers.
Launching a direct attack at Modi government, Mamata said, “23 parties have taken part in this rally. The Modi government is past its expiry date.”
The West Bengal CM said senior leaders like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari are ignored in the BJP, and will be ignored again if the BJP wins in 2019.
Mamata ended her speech with “BJP hatao, desh bachao and Jai Hindh, Vande mataram” chant.
Also among the attendees were the BJP’s rebel lawmaker Shatrughan Sinha and Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie – two former ministers from the BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who are now bitter critics of the current central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “There should be one united opposition candidate against the BJP to wipe them out,” said Yashwant Sinha.
“Oust Modi,” is the leitmotif of speeches at the rally, held ahead of Lok Sabha elections this year. “The country is waiting for a new Prime Minister,” said Akhilesh Yadav. “You wipe out the BJP from Uttar Pradesh, we will do so in Bengal,” Mamata Banerjee said to him.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party said the BJP must be “defeated at any cost in 2019,” while the Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi warned against allowing a division of votes, also saying, “A rainbow of 22 parties is replacing dark clouds.”
“Send Modi home, save the country,” said 12th speaker M K Stalin of the DMK, speaking in Tamil. “Modi has realised that defeat is certain,” he said, also adding that he has “no personal animosity against Modi, but oppose his policies.” Stalin accused PM Modi of converting “the country into a private limited company of which he is the MD.”
Stalin invoked poet Rabindra Nath Tagore; Hardik Patel talked about Subhash Chandra Bose. In the audience are singers, poets and personalities from the Bengali film and television industry.
Among other leaders on stage are former prime minister and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) chief H D Deve Gowda and is son and Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumarasway, former Maharashtra CM and ex-Union minister Sharad Pawar and former Arunachal Pradesh CM Gegong Apang and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference Party and his father Farooq Abdullah.
Mamata Banerjee is using the show of strength to emphasise her position as an important leader as opposition parties attempt to build a united front to take on the ruling BJP in the general election this year, when PM Modi will seek a second term.
As the BJP swept the parliament elections in 2014, reducing the Congress to its lowest ever tally of 44 seats, Mamata Banerjees party had bagged 34 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, emerging as the third largest party. This year, Mamata Banerjee has set her eyes on winning all of Bengal’s seats to ensure hers is the largest team in Parliament among all regional parties.
“Who is their leader? This is just an anti-Modi exercise and the people of the country can see through it,” said the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy said at a press conference in Delhi, asserting, “People have seen the performance of the Narendra Modi government … We will form the next government with full majority.”