In a rare display of Opposition unity, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) today joined a Congress-led opposition strategy meeting for the first time and participated in a “black” protest against Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as an MP.
The Trinamool’s Prasun Banerjee and Jawahar Sircar today joined the strategy meeting in the office of Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, indicating a major shift by Mamata Banerjee’s party since it declared it would stay equidistant from both the Congress and the BJP.
The Trinamool asserted that its support was restricted to the Rahul Gandhi protest as it believed that the Opposition should be united on this.
“We have been in every protest and walk out since the first day, never not joined one. The question of walking together is due symbolism, which we undertook today – a special mark of solidarity against coordinated and undemocratic attacks on everyone,” Jawhar Sircar said.
Reacting to the Trinamool’s surprise move, Mr Kharge said the Congress welcomed anyone who came forward to “protect democracy”.
“I thank everyone who supported this. That is why, I thanked everyone yesterday and I thank them today as well. We welcome anyone who comes forward to protect democracy and Constitution and safeguard the people. We extend heartfelt gratitude to the people who support us,” the Congress president said.
Congress MPs wore black shirts as a mark of protest over Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification.
K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), a rival of the Congress in Telangana, also joined the “black shirt” protest along with the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray). After Rahul Gandhi’s “not Savarkar” jibe at the BJP over its demand for an apology, Uddhav Thackeray had, on Sunday, warned him that demeaning Vinayak Savarkar would create “cracks” in the opposition alliance.
Seventeen opposition parties — INC, DMK, SP, JDU, BRS, CPM, RJD, NCP, CPI, IUML, MDMK, KC, TMC, RSP, AAP, J&K NC, and Shiv Sena (UBT) — attended the meeting.
Like-minded opposition parties met in LOP @kharge ji’s chamber in Parliament today.
We were joined by leaders from the DMK, SP, JDU, BRS, CPM, RJD, NCP, CPI, IUML, MDMK, KC, AITC, RSP, AAP, J&K NC & SS. We are united in our fight to restore democracy and Parliament’s lost glory. pic.twitter.com/03BxyrhcYC
— K C Venugopal (@kcvenugopalmp) March 27, 2023
The Trinamool shares an uneasy relationship with the Congress, which is part of the opposition, along with the Left, in Trinamool-governed West Bengal. The party had initially maintained a calculated silence on Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification in a 2019 defamation case, even among widespread calls for a united opposition against the BJP’s alleged targeting of opposition leaders. The party has in the past skipped Opposition strategy meetings led by the Congress.
Trinamool chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been a strong critic of the BJP, supported Rahul Gandhi.
“In PM Modi’s New India, Opposition leaders have become the prime target of the BJP! While BJP leaders with criminal antecedents are inducted into the cabinet, Opposition leaders are disqualified for their speeches. Today, we have witnessed a new low for our constitutional democracy,” she said.
Ms Banerjee had earlier this month accused the Congress-Left combine of being in an ‘immoral alliance’ with the BJP, and had ruled out any partnership for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Ms Banerjee claimed that the Congress, after having sought the “saffron camp’s help”, should refrain from calling itself anti-BJP.
The Congress has alleged a “conspiracy” to silence Rahul Gandhi, who, they say, was making the PM and the BJP uncomfortable with sharp questions on the Adani-Hindenburg row. Congress workers have been protesting across the country for the last two days. Party president Mallikarjun Kharge and top leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accused the government of “trying to silence” a “martyr’s son”.
Asserting that the action against Mr Gandhi was lawful, and initiated by an independent judiciary, the BJP accused the Congress of protesting against the Constitution and the courts.
Fourteen opposition parties have approached the Supreme Court alleging the misuse of central investigating agencies by the government. The top court will hear the case on April 5.
52-year-old former Congress president Rahul Gandhi was convicted by a court in Gujarat, PM Modi’s home state, and sentenced to two years in jail for a 2019 speech in which he linked PM Modi’s last name with two fugitive businessmen, remarking how the “thieves” shared the same last name. The court also granted him bail and suspended the sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal to a higher court.
Rahul Gandhi’s team has said they will challenge the verdict in a higher court. If the order is not cancelled, Mr Gandhi will not be allowed to contest elections for the next eight years.
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