As Parliament’s Monsoon Session is disrupted over issues like Pegasus, price rise and Covid, Mamata Banerjee is in Delhi, meeting Opposition leaders and preparing for her new innings after the Bengal victory.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mamata Banerjee had a chai pe charcha (discussion over tea) with journalists in which India Today Group’s Anjana Om Kashyap, Chitra Tripathi and Preeti Choudhry also participated. What was the message that the Bengal CM tried to send out through this meeting in Delhi? This is what India Today’s Anjana Om Kashyap, Chitra Tripathi and Preeti Choudhry had to say:
MAMATA IS FULL OF SELF-CONFIDENCE: ANJANA OM KASHYAP
It’s interesting to see a state chief minister come to Delhi and have an off-record meeting with the media. Invited to the meeting, I also went there. There was a shine of victory and self-confidence on Mamata Banerjee’s face. As if she had found the mantra to defeat Prime Minister Modi. She often reiterated that there was no need to fear Modi and Amit Shah. She repeatedly tried to send out a message: ‘We have the mantra to take on Modi and we have taught them this lesson in Bengal.’
She gave her most emphatic answer when a journalist asked: ‘Having come from Bengal, do you think you will be able to unite the Opposition?’ She said: ‘If Modi and Shah can come from Gujarat and rule in Delhi, why can’t I come? Am I an outsider? They were outsiders in Bengal. I’m from Bengal. But if somebody can come from Gujarat and rule in Delhi, why can’t I come from Bengal and unite the Opposition?’
When asked about the Opposition’s face, she said: ‘Wait for some time. Several parties have to come together and chalk out a strategy.’ However, she didn’t give a significant answer to the question of Sharad Pawar. That means the picture could be even bigger in the days to come. Through the activities so far, she is trying to send out the message that the Opposition will have to unite.
Today, 14 Opposition parties held a meeting in Delhi chaired by Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Rahul Gandhi also participated in the meeting. But TMC MPs had not been invited to this meeting. That means Opposition unity seems to be already showing signs of falling apart. Be that as it may, Mamata is self-confident. She took several questions and never looked like losing her cool. She also tried to give a message to the media that there is no need to fear.
She said all Opposition parties are raising issues but Snoopgate is the biggest issue that they will raise more aggressively. Mamata also indicated that she is ready if Opposition parties invite her to campaign in the UP election. That means Mamata will also be active in the UP election. Through this meeting, she tried to tell Opposition parties and the media that she had found the formula to defeat Modi and Shah.
MAMATA FEELS A UNITED OPPOSITION CAN DEFEAT BJP: CHITRA TRIPATHI
Mamata Banerjee is full of enthusiasm after winning Bengal. During back-to-back meetings with leaders, Mamata Banerjee met journalists and candidly responded to all questions. In Delhi, she is making plans to defeat the BJP. She repeatedly faced the question as to who will take on Modi. She talked about issues and her entire focus was on the fact that it won’t be difficult to defeat the BJP if the Opposition unites.
This was Mamata Banerjee’s informal meeting with journalists. All cameras were outside. But TMC’s cameras and mic were available for journalists. She held the mic and said journalists are more interested in what news they’re getting than tea and snacks. When she attacked the BJP in her style, everyone smiled.
When my turn came, I asked three questions. First: Your face was there in Bengal; big hoardings said Bengal wants its daughter; this slogan worked and you had a massive victory. But your poll strategist Prashant Kishor said during the election itself that it can’t be denied that Modi is the biggest face in the country. So, which Opposition leader will take him on? Second: During the election, your party repeatedly said that you will go to Prime Minister Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi. What’s your Varanasi plan now? Third: The SP campaigned for you in Bengal. Will you go to campaign for the SP?
Answering all three questions with ease, Didi said, ‘People, not I, will defeat the BJP.’ She said what’s needed now is Opposition unity and the Opposition face will also emerge later on. Right now, the entire focus is on defeating the BJP. The baby isn’t born yet and you’re asking about Annaprashan.’ On the question of Varanasi, she said with a smile: ‘I will definitely go to Varanasi. The food is delicious there. I like the atmosphere. The Ganga, the ghats everything is very good.’
Didi tried to do Khela through these lines while not saying anything directly. She hinted that she would go to Kashi when the time comes.
UP will have Assembly polls in six months. She looked enthused about this election, too. She said she will go to campaign if the parties there invite her. Referring to the August 16 Khela Diwas, she said Khela has happened in Bengal. She said with a smile: ‘Khela will now begin in the country.’
When asked who will lead the Opposition against Modi in 2024, she said, ‘Everybody must come together to defeat the BJP. I can’t do anything alone. Everyone will have to work together. I’m no astrologer. I don’t want to impose a face. This will depend on the situation then. I don’t have a problem if another face emerges from the Opposition. When we have a discussion on it, we’ll decide. I don’t want to be the leader. I want to work as an ordinary cadre.’
A VOTE OF THANKS THAT HAD MORE TO IT THAN MEETS THE EYE: PREETI CHOUDHRY
The last time I saw her was in an election rally on a wheelchair and a leg in a cast. When the national anthem played at the end of the rally, Mamata Banerjee struggled to stand up but stand up she did to rapturous applause then and stand up she did to what the BJP perceived to be a groundswell of anti-incumbency in Bengal. There is this thing about perception; things seldom are what they appear to be.
A very angry Mamata entering a ring like a wounded pugilist attempting to punch way over her weight was an image that I had perceived before I saw her again in Delhi on Wednesday. What I did see was the swag of a world champion who seemed confident she owned the ring. There is this thing about success, it softens the rough edges, it ebbs the anger, the frayed nerves and the sheer sweetness of it attracts all to the victor.
So, when Didi decides to meet a group of select journalists on her 5-day Delhi trip, there is a bit of hustling to get on to that list. The venue was a bungalow, a stone’s throw from Parliament in Lutyens’ Delhi. As you made your way in through heavy security ‘manned’ by Mamata’s seasoned posse of female security personnel, the first thing one saw was TMC beat reporters understandably arguing with the TMC media cell for being left out of the ‘list’. It was Didi’s trusted aide of many years ‘Ratan Da’ who intervened and the TMC reporters were let in.
With about 60 journalists across publications and channels, Mamata Banerjee got into an informal freewheeling chat where the nature of her visit to Delhi, her national ambitions and Opposition unity were discussed. What was a marked difference in her demeanour for those who saw her in election mode was this ease — the ‘street fighter’ seemed to be resting on her newly minted laurels, even if temporarily.
As Didi took questions, the hallmark ‘mercurial Mamata’ was missing. Though there were flashes of her old self. When piqued by certain questions, Mamata Banerjee in her quintessential Didi style scolded the scribes who questioned her about being an outsider in Delhi, giving the example of Modi from Gujarat, and how ‘Delhi’ journalists treat him as an insider but her as an outsider. I particularly don’t envy the journalist who, when commenting on the similarities between PM Modi and Mamata Banerjee, was made to elucidate by suddenly enraged Didi on what possible similarities there could be between the two.
The Bengal CM took questions for about 45 minutes straight, wherein even chiding journos for asking two questions instead of one but obliging all. In what has been her endearing hallmark recalled by those of us who have tracked her the longest, Mamata Banerjee kept asking her staff to ply the eager journalists with hot cups of tea and snacks on a rain-soaked afternoon.
What was of significance here was the usually reticent Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of Mamata Banerjee and the man who now looks to be the second in command, interacting with the ‘Delhi’ band of journalists with ease and purpose.
The meeting ended with the national anthem – and then her staff member gave a vote of thanks in Bengali. Mamata Banerjee was quick to ask him to repeat it in Hindi and English — and in there lay the operative part of the importance of this significant visit.