‘Mamata Banerjee had called Sonia Gandhi and urged her to help preserve democracy in the country by not letting BJP take advantage’.

 

Rahul Gandhi’s decision to call off campaigning in West Bengal earlier in the week was prompted by an urgent appeal from the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for preventing the Bharatiya Janata Party from deriving any advantage by dividing the secular vote.

Sources said that Mamata Banerjee had apparently called interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi and urged her to help in the preservation of democracy in the country. She is understood to have told the Congress chief that if the BJP made inroads into Bengal, it would be the beginning of the end of democracy, not only in the state, but the entire nation.

The West Bengal Chief Minister told Sonia Gandhi that her rise in politics was on account of tremendous support she had received from Rajiv Gandhi, who encouraged her to establish herself in state politics and patronized her by giving her important positions.

She said that she shared the Congress DNA and would expect the grand old party to prevent the communal forces to spread their tentacles in Bengal. It was for secularism that a stand needs to be taken. Rahul Gandhi’s campaigning would have been symbolic, but may have influenced voters in the Muslim-dominated constituencies which go to vote in the remaining phases. The division in Muslim votes would certainly help the BJP, Mamata Banerjee is understood to have told Sonia Gandhi.  The West Bengal CM further stated that the Congress may win some seats in the region, but overall it would be at the cost of consolidating the communal votes. Therefore, she would be willing to assist the Congress and Sonia Gandhi in some way at a later date, but at this crucial juncture, it was paramount that the Trinamool Congress’ chances were not affected by presence of the principal Congress leader in the campaign. The TMC has always acknowledged the Congress presence in places like Malda and, therefore, was making this appeal.

Sources said that Sonia Gandhi discussed this issue with Rahul Gandhi and some of her close aides and as per their calculation, they figured that giving up on five or six seats (which they would win) in that belt was hardly any price to pay for “saving democracy”. The quid pro quo from Mamata Banerjee was what the Congress would expect after the outcome of the polls on 2 May.

Rahul Gandhi’s decision not to campaign was initially criticized by Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who said that the Congress could see defeat staring at its face and, therefore, was running away from the election. Rahul Gandhi’s team attributed his decision not to campaign in Bengal to the rise in Covid cases.

The Prime Minister has in the meanwhile also curtailed his Bengal campaigning by suspending rallies in several places. The Election Commission, which was rapped on the knuckles by the High Court, has now fixed the number of people who can be present in election rallies at 500.

The Congress is confident that it might come to power in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and probably Assam, though its opponents do not agree with the assessment. However, Rahul Gandhi’s gesture would certainly help in building bridges with Mamata Banerjee, who is perceived to be the leader who may challenge Narendra Modi from Varanasi in 2024.

The West Bengal Chief Minister has declared that she was winning from Nandigram and the BJP was not getting sufficient support from the people of the state. However, the BJP appears certain that it would form the next government in the state which has never brought the saffron forces to power in the past.