New Delhi: Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited national capital on Tuesday – first time after resounding victory in state assembly elections – to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence in Lok Kalyan Marg. Following the meeting, CM Banerjee told reporters that the PM should convene an all-party meet to discuss the Pegasus scandal and decide on a Supreme Court-led investigation.
In Parliament, Opposition parties have been protesting the allegations of snooping by the Union Government through the Israeli spyware Pegasus, resulting in adjournment of both the Houses multiple times. While TMC MP Shantanu Sen was suspended for tearing up IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s denial statement, Opposition leaders have demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the allegations. The allegations have virtually blocked the monsoon session of parliament with the opposition demanding answers from PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Ms Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee is among the potential targets whose names have surfaced as part of a worldwide investigation by a media consortium that includes India’s The Wire. Yesterday, she announced a judicial inquiry led by former Supreme Court judges – the first since the Pegasus scandal broke – to investigate reports that many Bengal leaders were targeted.
The Chief Minister said in her meeting with PM Modi – she described it as a ‘courtesy visit’ – she had discussed the Covid situation, the supply of vaccines and medicine to the state and also a proposal to rename Bengal as Bangla. “I should not speak what the PM said,” she told reporters when pressed for details.
She said she was also supposed to meet President Ram Nath Kovind. “But the problem is they are asking me to have an RT-PCR done before meeting him. I have got both the doses though. Where will I go here,” she said.
Tomorrow, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has invited the Bengal Chief Minister, whose three-day visit to Delhi is packed with politically significant meetings. Ms Banerjee will also meet Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday.
Meanwhile, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said he is likely to meet Banerjee on Wednesday. She is also expected to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence in Janpath tomorrow, a news agency reported.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav is also expected to call on her. “I will also have a meeting with Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi,” she told reporters.
During her meeting with PM Modi, CM Banerjee also requested him to give her state more Covid vaccines based on its population.
Responding to a question on opposition unity against the ruling NDA, she said it would take shape on its own. Her response came as she met Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma, earlier in the day, amid several signals of increasing Opposition unity ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The visit comes also at a time when Parliament is in session. Banerjee has said that she intends to spend some time in Parliament and meet Opposition leaders.
Last week, on the Trinamool’s annual Martyrs Day celebration, a bevy of Opposition leaders came to pay their respects including P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh of the Congress, Sharad Pawar, who Banerjee mentioned repeatedly, and Supriya Sule of the NCP, Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Manoj Jha of the RJD, Tiruchi Siva of the DMK and Priyanka Chaturvedi from the Shiv Sena.
A senior Trinamool leader said that while the meetings with the President and PM were formalities, Banerjee’s visit this time was planned with a larger Opposition plan in mind ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha challenge.
“I think it is clear to everyone in the opposition that 2024 is a very crucial election, and there is a big challenge. It is also a good sign that seriousness has set in now, when there is time to fight, and fall out, and come together; iron out the chinks as they say. With her decisive win of Narendra Modi, Banerjee will have a big role to play,” a leader had said.
Ms Banerjee has been a key figure in speculation swirling around the opposition’s attempts to join forces to take on PM Modi and the BJP in the 2024 national election. Her recent election victory in Bengal has buttressed her image as an opposition face that can challenge the BJP’s might.
She was last week named leader of the Trinamool parliamentary party though she is not an MP. The new role signals her readiness to play a larger role in national politics beyond Bengal.
Ms Banerjee and PM Modi had met briefly in May, when Ms Banerjee’s move to skip PM Modi’s Cyclone Yaas review meeting became a huge flashpoint between the Centre and Bengal. Ms Banerjee left the meeting after handing over a report. Then Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay, caught in the crossfire, was recalled by the Centre but he retired on May 31 and became special adviser to the Bengal Chief Minister. In June the Centre warned him of “major penalty proceedings” for allegedly “not attending” the PM’s review meeting.