Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday borrowed from Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to take a swipe at the Congress ahead of a Lok Sabha election due in less than two months, declaring “I pray you can save at least 40 seats”. The Prime Minister was in the Rajya Sabha to take part in the Motion of Thanks discussion on President Droupadi Murmu‘s address to Parliament.
“The challenged has come from West Bengal… that the Congress will not be able to cross 40 (seats),” Mr Modi chuckled to a soundtrack of BJP MPs thumping desks, “I pray you can save at least 40”.
Ms Banerjee – whose relationship with the Congress and the party-led INDIA bloc is close to collapsing over a seat-sharing row – last week doubted the Congress’ ability to win “even 40 seats”.
The Congress has slumped to catastrophic defeats in the past two general elections, winning 72 seats in the 2014 poll and only 44 five years later. For contrast, in 2009 the party won 206 seats.
Her remarks followed Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s claim that seat-sharing talks are ongoing.
Questioned over the Bengal leader’s apparent distancing from the INDIA bloc, Mr Gandhi indicated he remains optimistic an agreement between the two parties is still possible. “Neither Mamataji nor Congress has come out of the alliance… Mamataji is saying she is (still) in the alliance,” he said.
The Bengal Chief Minister responded with a scathing attack on Mr Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’ – which has visited six districts as it marches to Maharashtra – and compared the foot march to a “mere photo opportunity” for “migratory birds”, one aimed at dividing minority votes in the state.
“I proposed Congress contest 300 seats… but they refused. Now, they’ve arrived in the state to stir up Muslim voters. (Now) I doubt whether they will secure even 40 seats if they contested 300.”
Ms Banerjee then dared the Congress to take on and defeat the BJP in Hindi heartland states like the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh; these send 134 MPs to the Lok Sabha and are ruled by the BJP, which dumped the Congress out of the latter two in November.
Trinamool-Congress ties are nearly at breaking point as a result of disagreements over dividing Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats between themselves and Left parties, which are also INDIA members.
Last month Ms Banerjee declared her party will contest all 42 on its own, and only consider an INDIA alliance after the election results, indicating her distrust in the bloc’s ability to challenge the BJP.
“I had no discussions with Congress. I have always said that in Bengal, we will fight alone. I gave them (the Congress) many proposals… but they rejected them. I am not concerned about what will be done in the (rest of the) country… but we are secular and, in Bengal, we alone will defeat BJP,” she said.
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