With Pegasus Controversy, Mamata Banerjee Continues Efforts to Take Her Anti-BJP Stance National

The TMC has been at the forefront of attempts to create a national non-BJP alliance to fight the saffron party before the next parliamentary elections.

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Kolkata: With the West Bengal government setting up an inquiry commission into the Pegasus snooping scandal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has become a leading regional party in the fight against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

In fact, the TMC has been at the forefront of attempts to create a national non-BJP alliance to fight the saffron party before the parliamentary elections. Other non-BJP opposition parties have not been as belligerent in this movement. Their role has largely been confined to protests in parliament; the TMC has taken the issue to the streets, staging dharnas and demonstrations both in New Delhi and Kolkata. This has been capped by setting up the inquiry commission.

Last Thursday, a TMC MP in the parliament snatched IT minister Ashwani Vaishnaw’s statement on the Pegasus spyware row, tore the papers and flung pieces in the air. A heated altercation took place between Union minister of petroleum and natural gas Hardeep Singh Puri and TMC MPs after that.

Quite reminiscent of what she did after demonetisation, chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has now taken up the Pegasus spyware issue to launch herself into the arena of national politics. In 2016, two days after the declaration of demonetisation, Banerjee had addressed rallies organised by her party to condemn the move in Lucknow and Delhi with a view to project herself as a national leader.

Also read: Mamata Banerjee Calls for Opposition Unity, Urges SC to Take Suo Motu Cognisance on Pegasus

With an aim to strengthen the opposition front and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Banerjee has gone to Delhi on a three-day visit from July 27 to 29. She is likely to urge opposition leaders to speak unanimously on the government’s alleged efforts to snoop on leaders and others, thereby hurting people’s right to privacy.

After her meeting with Modi on Tuesday, Banerjee said that the prime minister should convene an all-party meet on the Pegasus snooping row and decide on a Supreme Court-led probe. However, she refused to say if she discussed the findings of the Pegasus Project with Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee during their meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: PTI

During her speech at the Martyr’s Day rally last week, she even stressed on the need for a better opposition to fight the BJP nationally. She urged the Supreme Court to form a special investigating team (SIT) and take suo moto action to investigate the snooping controversy .

Banerjee’s speech appeared to to be aimed at a national audience. She delivered her speech mostly in Hindi, with some parts in English, and also urged opposition leaders to form an ‘Opposition Front’ as early as possible to fight the BJP.

Last Thursday, during a press conference, Banerjee claimed that before the assembly elections, when she was speaking with poll strategist Prashant Kishor, TMC leader Subrata Bakshi and TMC national general secretary (and her nephew) Abhishek Banerjee in a closed-door meeting, her phone has been snooped on. After a few days, she alleged, Banerjee came to know that the discussions were all out in the public and the conversations they had were tapped.

“The BJP is trying to establish autocratic rule in the state. Instead of creating more jobs in the country, they are  taking taxpayers’ money and spending it on spyware by an Israel-based company,” added Banerjee.

“I came to know that Prashant Kishor’s phone has been tapped as he sent his phone for the audit. I spoke with him over the phone, so my conversations have also been tapped. This is dangerous. I even spoke with Abhishek during the assembly elections and now I came to know that his phone is also allegedly being tapped.”

A leaked database, accessed by the French non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with The Wire and 15 other global media partners, contains details of 50,000 telephone numbers of individuals around the world selected as persons of interest by different government agencies that have used or are using Pegasus spyware.

As The Wire and its Pegasus Project partners have maintained, unless the phones are technically examined, it is difficult to ascertain if the numbers from the potential list were actually infected. Poll strategist Prashant Kishor had submitted his phone for forensic analysis, and a Pegasus infection was confirmed. Abhishek Banerjee’s phone could not be forensically analysed, though the number did appear on the leaked list.

Also read: Are Tensions Within BJP’s West Bengal Unit Escalating?

According to political analysts, Banerjee is using the Pegasus snooping issue to once again stress on the formation of a unified opposition.

According to Imankalyan Lahiri, senior professor of international relations at Jadavpur University and a political analyst, Banerjee’s outrage against the Union government on the Pegasus issue is consistent with her declared anti-BJP stand. She used the Martyr’s Day platform to reach viewers outside West Bengal and also leaders of other
political parties. Before the anti-BJP squad reaches is even formed, Lahiri said, Banerjee is becoming the most vocal anti-BJP leader.

Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University and a senior political analyst, said, “Mamata is leaving no stone unturned and picking up issues that will help her gain political mileage by  cornering the BJP. Mamata herself said the BJP is her main enemy and she will go all out to oust the BJP from the Centre. The snooping issue further accelerated her anti-BJP move.”

According to Chakraborty, this time Banerjee will strategise very carefully before the formation of an opposition front. That’s why she sent her nephew Abhishek Banerjee and political strategist Prashant Kishor to gauge the situation in Delhi, following which she will go ahead with her strategy on the formation of an opposition front to fight the BJP in the Centre.