Mamata’s request to BJP leader for “help” in Nandigram creates a political storm on day when Bengal voted in first phase of Assembly election

Published : March 28, 2021 10:14 IST

Outside a polling booth at Sirshi in Jhargram during the first phase of voting in the West Bengal Assembly election, on March 27. Photo: Ashok Bhaumik/PTI

On the day of the first phase of the Assembly elections in West Bengal, a recorded phone conversation between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Nandigram, Purba Medinipur, created a major sensation in political circles. In the recorded conversation made public by the BJP leadership, Mamata is heard requesting Proloy Pal, BJP leader from Nandigram, to “help her out this time”. Pal turned down her request.

Talking to Pal, Mamata said in the recording, “You are a young person and you do a lot of work I know. Please help us out this time. There will not be any problem.” Pal, who was once a Trinamool supporter, claimed that he was harassed by the Trinamool, to which Mamata answered, “You know, your local leaders did not allow us to enter Nandigram or any part of Medinipur (district).” When Pal told her categorically that he will not “betray” his party, Mamata is heard trying to persuade him, saying, “Tell me one thing. Those people you are working for were never a part of the BJP before. Do you think that they are honest?” The local BJP leader politely turned down the Chief Minister’s offer saying, “forgive me”, and the conversation ended with Mamata saying, “Give it a thought and be well.”

With two of the biggest mass leaders of the State – Mamata and BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari – taking on each other in Nandigram, the battle for the constituency is slated to be the most prestigious fight in this election. The incident has given the BJP a fresh handle to attack the ruling party with. Suvendu Adhikari said, “She [Mamata] is politically bankrupt…. She cannot rely on her own people any more. She has lost her credibility. Nobody calls her Didi anymore. They call her Pishi (aunt, a reference to her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who is considered to be heir apparent to the Trinamool leadership).

Amit Malviya, national president of the BJP’s IT cell and one of the ‘central observers’ for Bengal, posted on social media: “Massive! Mamata Banerjee calls Proloy Pal, BJP’s district Vice President in Nandigram and pleads for help! Proloy tells her that he was humiliated in TMC and he along with this family cannot betray the BJP. Pishi is definitely losing Nandigram and TMC Bengal...”

The Trinamool found nothing wrong in what Mamata did. Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee, addressing a press conference, said, “Can a party leader not nicely make a request to a former worker who has left for another party? And this is being spread across the world in an ugly manner using you [the media]. It will demean the stature of politics in the days to come…. Not only has Mamata Banerjee not done anything wrong by doing this, but she has also made me feel proud of the fact that I chose the right person to be my leader.”

Trinamool releases phone conversation

Soon after Mamata’s conversation with Proloy Pal was made public, the Trinamool released a phone conversation between BJP leaders Mukul Roy and Shishir Bajoria, in which they are discussing how to influence the Election Commission. Mukul, once Mamata’s right-hand man, now BJP’s candidate in Krishnanagar Uttar, was heard telling Bajoria, “You will have to tell the Election Commission that there should not be any rules or regulations on who can be an agent [in the election booths]. A citizen of West Bengal should be allowed to become an agent in any constituency. Otherwise there is a certain percentage of booths where our people will not be able to go at all. Do you understand what I am trying to say?” Bajoria answers, “I understand. I understand. Clear.” Mukul claimed the audio recording was fake, but Bajoria said it was genuine and saw nothing wrong in the conversation. “What was said was also mentioned in the letter to the Commission,” said Bajoria. Interestingly, the EC recently changed the rule regarding agents, allowing a party to choose an elector in an Assembly constituency to be its agent in any booth within that constituency. Earlier, the agent had to be a voter of the booth in which he has been chosen. The Trinamool allegation is that the BJP central leadership has been controlling the office of the Election Commission.

Sporadic violence

The first phase of the election on March 27, in which 30 constituencies from five districts – Purulia, Bankura (part 1), Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur (Part 1), and Purba Medinipur (part 1) – went to polls, saw sporadic violence and allegations flying from practically all contesting parties. According to Aariz Aftab, the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal, around 79.79 per cent of polling took place by 5 p.m.

Interestingly, it was the ruling party, Trinamool that raised allegations of violence, intimidation and electoral malpractice more than the BJP. Allegations against the Trinamool indulging in violence were also raised by the opposition. In Salboni, CPI(M) candidate Sushanta Ghosh’s vehicle was attacked and he himself was manhandled allegedly by Trinamool workers; and in Keshiary, a BJP supporter’s battered body was found outside his house early in the morning. His family members claimed that he was killed. The BJP claimed that the Trinamool was behind the murder.

At a polling booth in Kanthi, Trinamool supporters alleged that the EVM machines were rigged and even after pressing the buttons in favour of the Trinamool, the VVPAT slips showed votes for the BJP. Slamming the malfunctioning of the EVM machines, the Trinamool posted on social media, “Shocking claim by voters which must be immediately looked into by @ECISVEEPand @CEOWestBengal. Many voters in Kanthi Dakshin assembly seat allege that they voted for TMC but VVPAT showed them the BJP symbol. This is serious! This is unpardonable!.”