West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday came out in support of farmers protesting against the Centre’s new farm laws, saying the Narendra Modi government must either withdraw them or quit.
In the rally held in West Midnapore, considered a bastion of rebel Trinamool Congress strongman Suvendu Adhikari, Mamata also accused the BJP of trying to break up opposition parties using money power. Adhikari and his family were conspicuous by their absence.
“We are standing with farmers. We were with them and will remain with them. We will fight for farmers and are supporting the bandh (on November 8) in their favour,” Mamata thundered at Midnapore College Ground. Trinamool leaders said the rally was more like testing waters in the district after Suvendu quit the Cabinet and the party said rapprochement efforts were a “closed chapter”.
“People have not forgotten CAA. They think dividing Hindus and Muslims will work. I know BJP has power, money and goons. I know they scare our cops too. They may have money but they do not have workers like ours. We will do block-level protests in the state for farmers. We will also stand by central government employees. We had asked for a deep sea port but they did nothing. We are doing it on our own now,” the CM said.
“We know that BJP is spending money and spreading lies. They are breaking other parties using money power,” Mamata said, days after asking her leaders “in touch with BJP” to leave the party at a meeting with Trinamool functionaries.
Attacking the BJP further, the Trinamool supremo said, “Now Indian Railways is also on sale. National security is being compromised as ordnance factories will be closed. Coal India will be privatised, central banks have been merged and SAIL is on sale. Workers, farmers everyone will be on sale. We will not bow down to the people who killed Mahatma Gandhi.”
Slamming the BJP as a party of “outsiders”, Mamata said, “You want to bring outsiders and capture Bengal. The women of Bengal are enough to fight with their utensils.”
Asking the BJP to come clean on PM CARES funds for Covid-19 relief, she said, “They are controlling the media. We have reached here not with anybody’s mercy, but have fought our way here. We have been beaten up so many times. No one has forgotten. We still don’t know how many died in Nandigram.”
Attacking the BJP over the migrant crisis during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, the CM said, “The BJP did not help them with even a single rupee. We hired 300 trains for them. We have given them 100 days’ work as well. The BJP has given protection to ‘looteras’. It is a safe bank for stolen money. They are buying leaders and governments.”
When Suvendu’s absence spoke louder
The Adhikari family hails from neighbouring East Midnapore district and wields considerable political clout in some 60 assembly constituencies spread across six districts of Bengal.
Not just Suvendu, but his father Sisir Adhikari, one of the founding members of Trinamool, and brothers Dibyendu and Soumendu did not turn up for Mamata’s rally. Sisir and Dibyendu are Trinamool MPs from Tamluk and Kanthi Lok Sabha seats and Soumendu is an MLA from East Midnapore.
Their loyalists also skipped the rally. In fact, many Trinamool office-bearers loyal to Suvendu said they were not invited to the rally, for which buses full of party supporters were brought in from East Midnapore too.
West Midnapore Zilla Parishad members Ramaprasad Giri and Amulya Maity, and former Midnapore municipality chairman Pranab Basu were not seen on the ground. “We were not invited to the meeting. Every time we used to get the invitation, but this time we weren’t called,” said Maity.
“We used to be allotted work for arranging any big political event, but this time we did not receive an invitation,” confirmed Basu.
More than 10,000 banners were installed in West Midnapore district for the rally, along with LEDs to amplify the effect of Didi’s roar. However, instead of the two lakh people Trinamool leaders were expecting at the rally, less than half turned up.
Ministers Partha Chatterjee and Chandrima Bhattacharya, MP Subrata Bakshi and Chhatradhar Mahato, who was behind bars under UAPA for Maoist activities, shared the stage with Mamata on Monday amid a glaring miss by her old team.
Rebellion within the Trinamool is spreading, with not just Suvendu, but several heavyweight ministers and MLAs speaking out against the way election strategist Prashant Kishor is working in the run-up to assembly polls in Bengal. The Trinamool hired Kishor after BJP won 18 seats from Bengal in a stunner in the Lok Sabha elections last year. Many leaders are also unhappy over the way Mamata’s niece Abhishek Banerjee is assuming control over the party’s affairs.