Kolkata rally: Leaders slam Modi; Shourie labels Mamata 'Bengal tigress'

Mamata rally supporter A supporter at the opposition's United India rally in Kolkata | Salil Bera

A host of opposition leaders, ranging from erstwhile BJP ministers such as Yashwant Sinha to first-time Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, attacked the policies of the Narendra Modi government at the massive 'United India' rally organised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Kolkata on Saturday.

Banerjee, who had been instrumental in facilitating the gathering, took the role of 'moderator' to coordinate proceedings as various opposition leaders spoke. Mevani, who had made a name as a dalit rights activist before entering electoral politics, was among the first to speak. Mevani declared the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of secular parties would ensure the defeat of the BJP and RSS.

"The country is going through an unprecedented crisis with the exploitation of the poor, minorities and dalits in the four-and-half-year rule of the BJP," Mevani observed and hoped that a Mahagathbandhan government would uphold the Constitution and the country would become a true socialist government.

Mizoram's leader of opposition Lalduhawma who spoke at the United India rally said the entire northeast was “burning” because of the Modi government's determination to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. "If the bill was enacted, India will no longer be the place that it used to be ... so we want a secular government at the Centre, so that this bill was withdrawn or exemption must be given to the northeast,"Lalduhawma declared.

Former BJP minister Arun Shourie, who also spoke at the United India rally, called on the opposition parties to “unitedly pitch” single candidates against the BJP to win the Lok Sabha election. "It will not be an easy work—pitching a single opposition candidate in each seat against the BJP. But we must sacrifice for the country, with a sense of love for it," Shourie, who was minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, said.

Shourie claimed the Modi-Shah duo had lost the people's trust and also referred to Banerjee as a “Bengal tigress”. "The Bengal tigress has given the call to oust BJP. I am sure it will be successful," he added.

National Conference Patriarch Farooq Abdullah raised the issue of EVMs being rigged, referring to the machines as “chor machine” and called for bringing back ballot papers. "The EVM is chor machine. Honestly speaking, it is so. Its use must be put to an end. Nowhere in the world is the machine used. The opposition parties should approach the Election Commission and the president of India to stop the use of the EVM and bring back the old ballot papers for the sake of transparency," he said.

"I am a Muslim and I love India, my country," Abdullah said. Continuing his tirade against the BJP, he said it stood for the Triple Talaq Bill in Parliament but did not pass the Women's Reservation Bill.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu also spoke at the United India rally.