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‘Will you lead opposition alliance?’ Sri Lanka president’s query stuns India’s Mamata, a Modi critic

The chief minister of Bengal responded “oh my goodness” before saying it depended on the will of the people.

Mamata Banerjee (L), chief minister of teh eastern Indian state of West Bengal, with Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe at Dubai airport, UAE, on Tuesday, September 12, 2023. (PTI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

MAMATA Banerjee, one of India’s major opposition faces, was taken aback at the airport in Dubai on Wednesday (13) morning when she was asked by the president of Sri Lanka whether she would lead the opposition alliance in the country.

Banerjee, a firebrand leader who heads the Trinamool Congress and is the chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, was on her way to Madrid, Spain, to attend a business trip when she came across Ranil Wickremesinghe, the president of India’s southern maritime neighbour.

On the occasion, Wickremesinghe, who took over as the president last year when Sri Lanka was going through intense economic and political turmoil, reportedly asked the Indian leader, “Can I ask you a question?”

When Banerjee, one of the fiercest critics of prime minister Narendra Modi, acquiesced, he continued, “Will you lead the opposition alliance? We all are wondering.”

He was heard saying the words in a short clip that was circulating on social media.

The chief minister of Bengal responded, “Oh my goodness” as she was surprised. She then added, “It depends on the will of the people, you know… If people support us, we can be in position (power) tomorrow.”

Both leaders enjoyed the moment, as it was evident from the video.

Banerjee also invited Wickremesinghe to the Bengal Global Business Summit 2023 in state capital Kolkata and said the later also invited her to visit his country.

Wickremesinghe was in India on a two-day official visit in July when he met Modi.

Banerjee posted on her X account later, “His Excellency The President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe saw me at the Dubai International Airport Lounge and called me to join for some discussion. I have been humbled by his greetings and invited him to the Bengal Global Business Summit 2023 in Kolkata. HE the President of Sri Lanka extended cordial invitation to me to visit Sri Lanka. It was a pleasant interaction with deep implications.”

Opposition alliance INDIA still not decided over PM face

The Trinamool Congress is a part of the recently formed INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) by the opposition parties that seek to challenge Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party in elections, from by-polls to the national one next year.

The alliance, however, has maintained silence over the prime ministerial face saying the decision can be taken when time comes. The leadership question has proved to be decisive in the past for most opposition fronts in India, with many leaders and their parties not being on the same page with the Indian National Congress, the largest opposition party in the country.

While the Congress has on other times backed its main leader Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial face, it has chosen to deal with the situation more cautiously, allowing other prominent leaders of the INDIA platform such as Banerjee; Nitish Kumar, her counterpart from the state of Bihar; Sharad Pawar, a veteran leader from Maharashtra; among others to remain in pole position.

Sources said Wickremesinghe also gifted a painting to Banerjee, who herself is a noted painter.

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