NEW DELHI, Feb 2: In yet another scathing attack on the Congress, the Trinamool Congress chief and the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday challenged the Congress to take on the BJP in the Hindi heartland states and said she has doubts whether the grand old party will secure “even 40 seats” in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Ms Banerjee also criticised the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra, which on Friday was traversing through the state’s six districts, comparing it to a “mere photo opportunity” for “migratory birds” who have descended upon the state. She said the Yatra was only trying to “give sursuri (create a stir)” among Muslims in the state, and suggesting that it was little more than a “photo shoot.” “If they had the guts”, she said, the Congress should go to the BJP-ruled states.
Her attack came a day after the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi repeated that the Congress saw the TMC as part of the INDIA alliance, and that talks for seats were “ongoing.”
Speaking at her 48-hour sit-in protest in Kolkata against the Central government “depriving” Bengal of funds, Mamata said: “I asked the Congress to fight in 300 seats (and leave the rest for INDIA partners in the Lok Sabha polls), but they did not listen. Now, they have come to the state to create a stir among Muslim voters. The BJP is trying to create a stir among Hindu voters. What will secular parties like us do? I don’t know if they (the Congress) will even win 40 seats if they contest 300.”
She said she was open to an alliance with the Congress in West Bengal in the Lok Sabha elections. The TMC chief added that in Bengal, she offered the Congress two seats (the same as it holds now), “and would have helped them win,” “But they wanted more. I said, okay, contest on all 42 then. ‘Rejected!’ There has been no conversation with them since.” “We were open to an alliance, offering them two seats which they rejected. Now let them contest in all 42 seats alone. Since then, there has been no dialogue between us,” she remarked.
Mamata reiterated that she had been kept in the dark on the Rahul Yatra through Bengal. “They have come to do a programme in Bengal, but did not even inform me as an INDIA member. I got to know through administrative sources,” she said, claiming that the person the Congress called up “to request that the rally be allowed to pass through” was TMC Rajya Sabha member Derek O’ Brien. “Why come to Bengal then? If you have the guts, go to Uttar Pradesh, go to Benaras or Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and defeat the BJP there.”
Without taking any names, Mamata took a further dig at the Yatra, saying: “Photo shoots are being held by those who have never sat in a tea stall or ever played with children. Taking a dig at Rahul Gandhi’s interactions with the beedi workers during the Yatra through Murshidabad on Thursday, Ms Banerjee said, “They don’t know how to roll beedis… They may be smoking something else. They are fair-weather friends.”
Rahul’s meetings during the Yatra in Bengal have included interactions with beedi workers in Murshidabad. On Friday, he posted on social media a video of his conversation with activists highlighting Bengal and its culture and talking about Rabindranath Tagore, plus his interactions with beedi workers.
Speaking to media persons in Murshidabad on Thursday, Rahul had said: “It is our INDIA alliance. Neither Mamataji nor we have broken the alliance. Mamataji has said she is in the alliance and we are also saying we are in the alliance. Negotiations for seats are on. It will get resolved.”
In her speech, Mamata also suggested that her party had taken the lead on the Manipur issue. “Where were you when Manipur was burning? We had sent a team.” She also went on to criticise the interim budget of the Narendra Modi government presented in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
Earlier, on January 24, two days ahead of the Rahul Yatra entering Bengal, Mamata had taken the Congress by surprise by declaring that the TMC would fight the Lok Sabha elections in Bengal alone, and that a call on alliance will be taken after the polls. She has also accused the CPI(M) of “controlling” INDIA meetings, saying this was unacceptable to her as she rose to power fighting against the Left.
Meanwhile, a faux pass by the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge in Parliament on Friday provided laughter to the treasury benches. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha on the issue of women’s representation, Mr Kharge was making a point about the government’s majority in the Lok Sabha, when he said, “Aapka itna bahumat hai, pehle 330,334 thi, ab to ‘400 paar’ ho raha hai (You have a majority of 330, 334 seats and 400 is being crossed now).”
While the Congress chief was probably referring to the BJP slogan in which it has set a target of winning over 400 seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the faux pas prompted laughter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present in the House, Union Minister Piyush Goyal, others in the treasury benches, and even Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Amid the laughter, Mr Kharge tried to clarify his statement when Mr Goyal got up and said, “Today, Kharge ji has finally said the truth and nothing but the truth.”