KOLKATA: In what may be the biggest show of strength by Opposition parties in recent times, leaders of 23 national and regional parties descended on Kolkata on Saturday putting aside their differences and pledging to work together not to let the BJP come back to power in the upcoming polls.
Giving muscle to the mega rally were over two lakh TMC workers who assembled at the sprawling Brigade Parade Ground to listen to their boss Mamata Banerjee and a galaxy of leaders from other parties.
While former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, former NDA Union ministers Yaswant Sinha and Arun Shourie and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi spoke about the need to finalise seat sharing as early as possible, Banerjee tried to dispel the notion that the Opposition alliance partners are fighting among themselves for the PM seat.
“We have a collective leadership unlike the BJP. We will decide the PM after elections,” she said.
Other leaders who addressed the rally included chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal, Chandrababu Naidu and H D Kumaraswamy; and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Gegong Apang, and rebel BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha.
In response to the pointed attack on him, PM Narendra Modi said, “Those who crushed democracy in their own state are now preaching about saving the democracy. It’s truly ironical.” Addressing a public event in Silvassa, where he inaugurated some projects after attending the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, Modi said: “My actions against corruption have infuriated some people. It’s but natural for them to get angry as I’ve prevented them from looting public money. They have now formed an alliance called Mahagathbandhan.”
In Kolkata, Yashwant Sinha disagreed: “We have united not to remove a person but to fight an ideology.”
Stressing on the need for unity, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge read out a letter of support to the rally from Sonia Gandhi, and said “Though our hearts don’t match, we have to hold each other’s hand.”
Banerjee urged Farooq Abdullah, Naidu and Kejriwal to hold similar rallies in their respective states.
Abdullah and Naidu flagged the ‘dangers’ of electronic voting machines and demanded that ballot papers be brought back.
While Kumaraswamy accused the BJP of indulging in horse-trading in Karnataka, SP chief Yadav said, “The SP-BSP alliance has sent a wave of optimism across the country. If Tamil Nadu can return zero seats to the BJP, so can UP, Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand.” TRS and the Left parties chose to stay away from the mega rally. Mayawati and Rahul Gandhi also gave it a miss.