New Delhi: The virtual meeting of opposition chief ministers with Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi Wednesday saw some notable developments, including a fiery and passionate Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray saying he is a “fighter father’s fighter son”.
The meeting, called at Sonia Gandhi’s behest, also showed some new-found bonhomie between the Congress chief and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee.
The meeting was convened to discuss students’ nationwide demand for the postponement of the engineering and medical entrance tests, the JEE and the NEET, scheduled for September, as well other issues like GST compensation from the Centre to the states, and the opposition’s fight against the Narendra Modi government’s privatisation policies.
Apart from Gandhi, Thackeray and Banerjee, the meeting was attended by Jharkhand CM and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Hemant Soren, an ally of the Congress, and Congress’ Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) and V. Narayanasamy (Puducherry).
‘Do we want to fight or be scared?’
Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had last participated in an opposition meeting called by Sonia Gandhi in May, to devise a “common action plan” to take on the Modi government over its handling of the migrant workers’ crisis.
Thackeray, whose party is in a coalition called the Maha Vikas Aghadi with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, said the opposition keeps meeting for “chai-paani” (chit-chat), but must decide if it wants to be fearful of the government or fight it.
“Humein darna hai ya ladna hai?” he asked the other six CMs in the meeting. Pat came Banerjee’s reply: “Ladna hai (we must fight).”
Thackeray went on to say the people who elected the BJP at the Centre “also elected all of us”.
“Magar hum kuchh karein toh paap, woh karein toh punya? (But if we do something it is a sin, and if they do anything it is virtuous?” he asked.
On the NEET-JEE postponement issue, Thackeray said if the exams could not be held in June, there is no way they can be held now, when Covid-19 cases have only increased.
Thackeray also expressed concern about the federal structure of India being violated, saying: “Let it not be the case that only one man runs the entire country in the future.”
Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee both responded to the Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena chief’s statement by saying “we must fight together”.
In the initial part of the meeting, there seemed to be an unusual bonhomie between the Congress and Trinamool Congress chiefs, with both insisting the other moderate the meeting.
Gandhi addressed the leaders first, followed by Banerjee, whose speech highlighted the need to insist on the postponement of the NEET and JEE exams, as they posed a risk to the students. Once she was done speaking, she asked Banerjee to take over and conduct the meeting.
“Why don’t you carry on and conduct the meeting, Mamata ji,” Gandhi then said, to which the Bengal CM smiled and said “you are the senior leader”.
When Gandhi insisted one more time, Banerjee said: “It is my honour that you allow me to conduct (the meeting), but if you are present, then you do this.”
The two leaders finally agreed that the first name be announced by Banerjee, and then Gandhi would take over.
Other important remarks
While the CMs largely stuck to the issue of moving the Supreme Court together to demand the postponement of NEET and JEE, there were other interesting remarks made in passing too.
Rajasthan CM Gehlot, speaking about the Modi government’s “priorities”, said it is obsessed with dismantling state governments.
“The government is not concerned about any other issue but dismantling governments. It did so in Karnataka, then in Madhya Pradesh. The Rajasthan government got saved because of all your aashirwad (blessings),” he said, referring to the month-long revolt he faced at the hands of his former deputy, Sachin Pilot.
Baghel, meanwhile, said it is important for the opposition CMs to vocally oppose the Modi government’s privatisation spree.
“Railways, airports and other entities are being sold to private businesses in almost all states. We must speak up against it,” the Chhattisgarh CM said.
Jharkhand’s Soren concurred, adding: “In the name of aatmanirbhar Bharat, the government is privatising everything.”