Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is heading to Delhi today for her first visit since victory in the April-May Assembly election, and one of her stated objectives is to kick-start an attempt to unite opposition parties ahead of the 2024 general election.
Ms Banerjee is expected to host tea for opposition leaders at 3 pm on July 28, possibly at the home of her nephew, and Trinamool Congress MP and General Secretary, Abhishek Banerjee.
The Chief Minister had issued an appeal for unity on July 21 in a speech screened in Delhi that was attended by top leaders – including the Congress’ P Chidambaram and NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
On that day Ms Banerjee had said people would not forgive them – the opposition – if they did not bury their differences and unite against the BJP.
The guest list for this week’s tea party is now fodder for speculation, but could include leaders from the eight parties that attended the July 21 event hosted by the Trinamool at Delhi’s Constitution Club on the occasion of the party honouring Shahid Diwas, or Martyrs’ Day.
Ms Banerjee’s virtual speech that day was screened at the Constitution Club.
Apart from Mr Chidambaram and Mr Pawar, others present were Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, the NCP’s Supriya Sule, the DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, Keshav Rao of the TRS and Manoj Jha from the RJD.
The Shiv Shena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi, the Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav and Jaya Bachchan, the AAP’s Sanjay Singh and the Akali Dal’s Balwinder Singh Bunder were also there.
Besides meeting opposition leaders, Ms Banerjee will also go to Parliament on one of the three days – most likely July 27 – she plans to spend in Delhi. She is likely to meet with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Delhi Chief Minister and AAP National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal.
She is also likely to meet interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in a separate interaction, although no dates or times have been confirmed by anyone as yet.
On Sunday a tweet by the Congress featured Abhishek Banerjee.
One of a series of tweets on the Pegasus phone-hacking row, it attacked the BJP for targeting Mr Banerjee, whose name was on an alleged list of surveillance targets using the Israeli spyware.
Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien retweeted that with the comment “khela hobe” – the party’s anthem for the Assembly election, which means “game on”.
Trinamool MP Sougata Roy welcomed the tweet as a Congress gesture of unity, saying: “It should strengthen bonds between opposition parties.”
Abhishek Banerjee is close to poll strategist Prashant Kishor – who helped the Trinamool win the election, and whose name was also on the alleged list of surveillance targets. Mr Kishor has recently met several senior opposition leaders, including Sharad Pawar and the Gandhi family.
He was at Ms Banerjee’s place on July 21 when she raised the call for opposition unity. That evening, Abhishek Banerjee and he flew to Delhi to lay the ground for Mamata Banerjee’s visit.
Ms Banerjee will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, possibly on July 28.
This will be her first interaction with the Prime Minister since the election. Sources say she will raise the issue of central dues to the state, which is holding up development programmes.
The Bengal BJP has mocked Ms Banerjee’s attempt at opposition unity.
“We saw what came of her efforts in 2019,” Dilip Ghosh, BJP MP and Bengal chief, said, “The same will happen again. She is not able to run the state and is meeting the Prime Minister to ask for help.”