West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and leaders of some regional parties as well as National Democratic Alliance partner Shiv Sena to explore a “federal front” option to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the next Lok Sabha polls, mooting a “one-to-one” fight in all the states.
According to a senior NCP leader, who did not want to be identified, Banerjee at the same time favoured a front without involving the Congress.
The Trinamool Congress supremo sought to rally the regional parties against the NDA even as Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who mooted a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition in national politics, said the alternative being proposed by him would be a “people’s front of India”.
Coming down heavily on the NDA-led Centre, Banerjee said issues like demonetisation and bank frauds have affected people at the grassroots level and that it was time for the BJP to “pack up and go”.
She asserted that all opposition parties should work together to oust the BJP.
Banerjee, who is in Delhi for three days, had an hour-long meeting with Pawar and other NCP leaders at his office in Parliament.
Pawar had earlier in the day denied that a meeting over dinner with opposition parties was scheduled tonight.
“There is no meeting, there is no dinner,” Pawar had said in response to a question whether there will be a dinner meeting with the West Bengal chief minister.
Banerjee, who also met leaders from other opposition parties like the Telugu Desam Party, which recently walked out of the BJP-led NDA over the issue of special status to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Biju Janata Dal, National Conference and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, once again emphasised that the need of the hour is have a state-wise strategy to defeat the BJP.
She met Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut along with other Sena members of Parliament triggering speculation in political circles. The Sena, though a part of the ruling NDA, has been critical of Maharashtra and central governments.
“All opposition parties should work together. It should be a one-to-one fight against the BJP. All opposition parties should help the strongest one in the state against the BJP,” Banerjee told reporters.
On the issue of opposition unity, Banerjee hailed the alliance between the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and said that all opposition parties should come together to help the alliance.
“If Akhilesh and Mayawati call a meeting in Lucknow, we will all go. We should help the parties where they are strong,” she said.
Raut denied that Shiv Sena was joining any front, but said that the Shiv Sena and Banerjee have “a very warm” relationship and there were certain things which Banerjee wanted to convey to Uddhav Thackeray.
Banerjee later said that she “respects” Shiv Sena.
“At least it does not do politics with a gun in their hand. There is no party more communal than the BJP,” Banerjee said.
The chief minister will also meet rebel BJP leaders Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha and former Union minister Arun Shourie on Wednesday.
Though Banerjee is said to be favouring a Front without the Congress, she did say she was in touch with its president Rahul Gandhi. TMC leaders said she is planning to meet Sonia Gandhi.
Replying to a query, Banerjee said she has been exchanging messages with Rahul Gandhi.
According to a senior NCP leader, Banerjee favoured forming a “federal front” to defeat the BJP without involving the Congress.
“She said that a non-Congress federal front should be formed to take on the BJP in the assembly as well as the Lok Sabha elections. She feels that if the Congress becomes a part of the opposition front, then many parties like the BJD, TDP would not join the alliance. But she urged the NCP leader to also speak to other opposition parties to know their views,” the leader, who did not want to be identified, said.
Later NCP leader Praful Patel, while briefing the media on the meeting, said that both the leaders agreed that there should be “maximum unity” among opposition parties to take on the BJP.
“The situation will evolve in the coming months for assembly and Lok Sabha polls. There are of course a lot of different views on what kind of approach should be taken.
“But certainly what the leaders discussed was that opposition unity should be maximum possible as has been witnessed today in Uttar Pradesh where the BSP and the SP have started working together and therefore it is important that political differences among opposition should be resolved,” Patel told reporters.
Image: West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Benerjee with NCP chief Sharad Pawar after a meeting at Parliament house in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo