‘Dismayed by good friend Mamata’s decision to abstain’ | India News – Times of India


Veteran leader and opposition’s consensus Vice-President candidate Margaret Alva tells TOI’s Swati Mathur why the ideological battle matters, even if the numbers are stacked against her. Excerpts from the interview:
You have called the Vice-Presidential polls a referendum on the functioning of Parliament. Isn’t this equally a referendum on the functioning of opposition parties and their claim to unity?
I have repeatedly said Parliament is for discussion and consensus building. When you disallow debate, members take to other means to be heard. There is no point in saying the opposition disrupts Parliament. The Business Advisory Committee has both government and opposition representatives. People are amazed that the BAC can’t find common ground even on the agenda for discussion.
That said, the V-P polls are a challenge to parties in the opposition too. I agree it would have been more satisfying had more parties supported the common opposition candidate. But whatever their reasons, some are hesitant to join the opposition bloc. Take (TMC chief) Mamata (Banerjee), for instance. She has been my good friend since her Youth Congress days. I have fought for her, supported her and been with her in every battle… I was surprised and dismayed when TMC decided to abstain. There is no whip in this election and it is a secret ballot. If you cannot issue a whip, how can you tell your MPs to not vote? It is like issuing a negative whip. This is the time for all opposition parties, particularly for someone like Mamata, who has been leading this campaign for opposition unity, to challenge BJP. More so because she has borne the brunt of BJP’s handling of Bengal. For TMC to become neutral at this time really is a referendum on what the opposition parties are up to. I still hope and pray they will change their minds.
I believe you have called her but she won’t respond…
She doesn’t pick up the phone. I have written to her. And people have talked to her. All our phone are tapped… So there is hesitation to talk. But the bigger question is how does it help TMC to help BJP? Mamata has been making efforts to meet leaders of all anti-BJP parties. So I don’t understand why she is doing this.
When you say that Banerjee was expected to lead the opposition unity bid, do you think her reluctance to join the bloc may be because Congress won’t cede centre space? Other parties have expressed this concern too.
When you talk of opposition unity, leadership will go to the party with the largest number of seats in Parliament. No one is saying who should lead. Everyone is saying that in each state, regardless of the differences, there has to be give and take of some kind, there has to be adjustments.
Also, one may be very strong in Bengal, but does one have an all-India reach? Left may be strong in Kerala, but they lost in Tripura and Bengal. How can you draw one line for everybody? You have to cede space somewhere and fight it out elsewhere. Nobody is ruling out anyone for leadership. It may be possible that you are not the largest party, but everyone wants you to lead.
Considering the V-P polls is a lop-sided battle to begin with, what is the message that the opposition is trying to convey?
We are focusing on issues not just as the political opposition, but as concerned citizens. I have been in public life for 50 years. What we see today is a total breakdown of parliamentary functioning. I think parliament is not about majoritarianism. Our concern is that Parliament is not being allowed to function the way it is expected to and we are saying this needs to be corrected. One way to do this is by having a chairman who is neutral, firm, accommodating and who has the experience to bring people together.





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