THE TELEGRAPH, CALCUTTA
20th January 2019
Cover image: Leaders of India's main opposition parties join their hands together during "United India" rally ahead of the general election, in Kolkata on January 19, 2019. (Image: Reuters)
This report is a sequel to CCV Editor-in-Chief Dr James Kottoor's yesterday's article Political turmoil in India today! ‘Brand Modi’ has lost some of its shine. Dr Kottoor had highlighed the faultlines in the Modi Government and stressed on the urgent need for Opposition unity to beat Team Modi in the ensuing general election in April-May 2019. The exact dates are yet to be announced by the Election Commission (most probably in the first week of March). There is a general disenchantment of the common citizens with the Modi Government for its abject failure to keep its pre-election promises made in 2014. The million dollar question is will the Opposition parties unite and be able to remain united by chalking out a programme for Common Good? Common Good is the key phrase and not how much booty each Opposition leader and his/her kith and kin will make if voted to power. It will be the acid test of an ascetic – to overcome the lure of the lucre. As per leading news reports, yesterday's Mega Rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds in Kolkata where leaders of 23 Opposition met for four-and-a-half hours on a common dais to work out a common strategy to defeat Modi-Shah duo, gives the common citizens of India high hopes of Acchey Din of Education, Health, Food, Housing and Employment for all. The following report in the Telegraph Calcutta indicates the countdown for Opposition unity has already begun. As Arun Shourie put it so succintly, this calls for great sacrifices of personal ambition of Opposition leaders. It is now or never. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
Calcutta: Soaring speeches were delivered, gracious gestures exchanged, clever slogans worked the crowds and expectations ran high. So did reminders of the enormity of the challenge that lay curled round the corner.
Leaders of 23 Opposition parties held aloft their entwined hands at the Brigade Parade grounds on Saturday and told the multitude looking up to them that a united fight against the Narendra Modi government alone could "restore democracy" and "protect the Constitution."
If the uncommon consensus raised the prospect of a nation-wide anti-BJP front for the general election, an immediate task was set by Arun Shourie, who drew attention at the event as a former BJP minister but whose words carried the acuity of the editor that had once made him a household name.
"People have lost confidence in Modi-Shah. But people have to be given the confidence that you will remain together," Shourie told the Opposition leaders on a day that scored high on atmospherics.
Virtually the who is who of the Opposition – including a former Prime Minister and three serving and five former chief ministers – had assembled at the United India rally responding to a call from Mamata Banerjee.
"Everyone has come together for the sake of the country. The beginning of the end of BJP started today from the Brigade …they have passed their expiry date," the Bengal Chief Minister summed up after 22 speakers had stressed on the need for a combined fight against Modi.
Most of the guests complimented Mamata for the initiative to bring them together. Saturday's event was just a "beginning" former Prime Minister cautioned in his speech.
He underlined that the road ahead would be "difficult" and advocated regular meetings among the leaders to sort out any differences on seat shares and to draw up a common agenda.
"Seat-sharing is not so easy. I can say that from bitter experience. It is a Herculean task. Now there is no JP (Jay Prakash Narayan), no Acharya Kripalani (who campaigned against Indira Gandhi and Emergency). I don't want to go into the past," Gowda said.
"We haven't much time. The Election Commission is likely to notify the election on March 1."
The tangible outcome of the four-and-a-half hours the leaders spent on this dais was a decision to hold at least two more conclaves: in Amravati and in Delhi, hosted by respective chief ministers Chandrababu Naidu and Arvind Kejriwal.
It was the oaths and optics of unity, however, for which the meeting stood out.
First, speaker after speaker emphasised that it was a time to bury differences and together take on the Modi-Amit Shah duopoly. Several leaders cited how arch-rivals Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party had joined hands in Uttar Pradesh for the Lok Sabha polls.
Mamata equated the prevailing situation in the country to a "Super Emergency", saying it was worse than the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. The Trinamool leader chanted the slogan: "Badal do, badal do, Delhi mein sarkar badal do (change the government in Delhi).
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of the state of West Bengal, speaks during "United India" rally attended by the leaders of India's main opposition parties, in Kolkata. (Image: Reuters)
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge read out a message from Sonia Gandhi who wished the rally success and underscored the importance of the occasion.
"The upcoming Lok Sabha election will not be (an) ordinary one. It will be an election to restore the nation's faith in democracy, defend our secular ethos and heritage, and defeat the forces that are trying to sabotage the Constitution of India," Sonia said in her message.
Second, most of the speakers underscored that the key to winning the voters trust was to convince them that the Opposition had come together and would stay together. Shourie's appeal was made in this context.
So gimlet-eyed were those looking for blunders that when Sharad Yadav made a slip of the tongue and mixed up Bofors and Rafale, a troll army celebrated this as the main event of the day.
Third, each heavyweight dutifully declared that who became the prime ministerial candidate was not the issue: the objective was a united battle against Modi.
"There is no need to think about (who will be) the Prime Minister ….. We'll decide that after the election," Mamata said.
Fourth, the Opposition vowed to stand by one another when the BJP let loose on them its "newfound allies" – a term that Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav explained, referred to the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
Mamata said: "There is courtesy in politics, but the BJP does not follow it. Those who are not with BJP are called thieves."
The Modi Government has been targeting Opposition leaders who have spoken against the BJP, she said, pointing out that Sonia Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and herself had not been spared.
Fifth, speaker after speaker highlighted the pain caused by Demonetization and what they described as the faulty implementation of the GST before drawing attention to the Government's poor record in job creation. Repeated references were made to the Rafale scam, peppered with questions on Modi's integrity.
Sixth, almost all the speakers especially Jayant Choudhary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal and Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy – flagged how agrarian distress had spread across rural India, to be met with indifference by the Modi Government.
Finally, although no pre-poll alliance was not announced or seat-share strategy discussed, there was broad agreement that the strongest opposition force at each place would fight the local NDA candidate.
Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha suggested the idea of one Opposition nominee against each BJP candidate.
A supporter holds a cut-out of Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of the state of West Bengal, during "United India" rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds, Kolkata. (Image: Reuters)
PRIDE OF PLACE FOR THREE LEADERS
Mamata Banerjee seemed most content introducing BJP dissidents Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Shatrughan Sinha on her Brigade dais on Saturday and suggested more seniors in the party had been denied respect by Modi-Shah duopoly.
"Not just them (the trio), have they (Modi-Shah) shown any respect to (union ministers) Rajnathji (Singh)? To Sushmaji (Swaraj)? To (Nitin) Gadkariji?" Mamata asked as Yashwant and Shatrughan were seen laughing on the dais.
As Mamata highlighted the presence of prized catches Yashwant, Shourie and Shatrughan while emceeing the event, the trio lived up to her expectations, delivering passionate speeches and dealing the BJP the unkindest cut from within its fold.
All three former union ministers who served in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. Yashwant was the finance minister, Shourie minister of communications and information technology, and Shatrughan the health minister. Of the three, actor-turned-politician Shatrughan is still in the BJP and the current MP from Patna Sahib.
"Since Independence this is the first Government fudging statistics and inflating development data to fool the people. This is a dangerous game," said Yashwant, 81.
"Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas " was the Modi slogan. Sabka sath toh ley liya, par kiya sabka nash (Everybody's support was taken, but instead of development, destruction was handed out), Yashwant said to thunderous applause.
Shourie urged the Opposition to work together "at any cost" to ensure the exit of the Modi Government. "We have to have one single aim – throwing the BJP out. Undertake sacrifices readily. Become Arjun (Mahabharat warrior) and do not waver from this one lakshya (aim)."
Shourie stressed that the mission "will not be easy." "One candidate against every BJP candidate has to be ensured. Divison of votes will be lethal. This sacrifice is a must," the 77-year-old said.
According to Shourie, Modi knows the reality and will fight hard. "Trust me Modi knows that his grip has loosened. He will do everything he can to cling to power."
Shatrughan explained his presence at the Brigade as "an act of defiance" enough for the BJP to expel him. Still he said he would continue "holding up a mirror" to the party's face. He attacked the Modi government over the Rafale deal, demonetization and GST. "I am not saying you (Modi) are guilty. But I will not say you are not. If you keep suppressing facts like this, people will continue to say "chowkidar chor hai" Shatrughan added echoing Rahul Gandhi and lavishing praise on the Congress chief.
Shatrughan said during Vajpayee's government there was Lokshahi (people's rule) in the country but under Modi there was only tanashahi (Dictatorship).
Urging all non-BJP leaders to help change the fate of the nation by bringing in a new government, Shatrughan stressed the need for unity despite diversity. "Motbhed ho toh ho, manbhed na ho (there can be differences of opinion, but do not let differences of mind come in the way)."