National opposition should work together to challenge Modi

Kolkata, Nov 24 West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday threw enough hints that she is not averse to taking the lead in bringing together opposition parties on a single platform against the BJP in the next Lok Sabha election in 2019.

The Trinamool Congress chief also stressed on "collective leadership" and favoured the national opposition continuing to work together to put up a credible challenge to the Modi government.

"It depends... Already, we are working together in Parliament. We will see. I went to (RJD chief) Lalu Prasadji in Patna. I have a good relationship with (Samajwadi Party chief) Akhileshji (Yadav)and (BSP chief) Mayawatiji in Uttar Pradesh," she said.

"Also, we have relationship with Stalin (of DMK) and Naveen Patnaikji in Odisha. The other day, Uddhav (of Shiv Sena) came to meet me in Maharashtra. I maintain the best of relations with so many other people. Even within the BJP, I maintain good relations with some people but not with all the people," Banerjee said in response to a query on forming a grand coalition before the 2019 general election.

There was a big round of laughter when she said "not with all the people" in BJP, an apparent jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah who have been gunning for her.

The Trinamool leader was speaking at the India Today Conclave East.

Asked about opposition parties coming together to fight the next Lok Sabha polls, she said: "There is no personal agenda against PM (Prime Minister). Whenever public are facing problems, it is our duty to raise our voice. I believe in the collective leadership... At this present situation, all are working together and that is the best policy. Let us work together. 

"In Bengal, the Congress and the Left, they are working with the BJP. But at the national level, we feel we must work together. We are working together with other parties," she said when asked to clarify what she meant by collective leadership. 

Asked about her meeting with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray despite being seen as a "secular champion", Banerjee's shot back: "First, I do not want to take any secularism certificate from anybody because it is my life and I maintain that. I am grateful to them as they accompanied us when we met President Pranab Mukherjee after the demonetisation announcement (in November last year).

"They opposed demonetisation. We can't forget that. That is why we maintain working relationship with them. If there is a common issue, of course we will work together." 

Banerjee described demonetisation and GST as the biggest blunders of the Modi government.

Asked to comment on Rahul Gandhi's imminent takeover of the Presidentship of his party, Banerjee said it was an internal affair of the Congress and that she had a lot of respect for both Sonia Gandhi and the late Rajiv Gandhi.

"Allow him to work. You don't impose on me or bulldoze me (to comment) what is my opinion," she snapped back when the interviewer persisted with his questions on whether she would work with Rahul Gandhi.

To another question whether she was not confined to Bengal, Banerjee said the Trinamool Congress was recognised as a national party with units also in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand. 

"Bengal is my motherland. We all love India. Bengal is my beginning and my end. But it does not mean we can't work at the national level. I have been MP for 23 years. I have been Railway Minister and Sports Minister at the Centre. Without regional politics, there is no national politics."

Asked if she had ambitions of becoming a Prime Minister, she said: "Let me continue as a commoner, LIP (less important person)." But later she said: "Bengal will lead the country."

Asked if if it will be "Bengal or Bengali", Banerjee said: "Bengal will lead the country."

To questions about BJP's plans to make gains in West Bengal, the Chief Minister said: "Not at all. Let them take care of their party matters. I don't think they will make an impact in Bengal. We are 99 per cent. They are one per cent. They have a big propaganda machinery and they are getting media help. They think they can create an impact through divisions and divide and rule. But this is the land of Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. People will never accept them." 



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