After her party’s resounding victory in the recent panchayat election, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee seems to have turned her attention to taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. At the annual “Martyr’s Day Rally” held by Trinamool on July 21, Mamata Banerjee launched a scathing attack on the saffron party on several fronts.
“If the BJP government returns to power, there will be no democracy anymore, there will be no respect for women anymore. Cast them (BJP) aside... INDIA (the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, a network of 26 opposition parties, including Trinamool) will fight, and Trinamool will be its soldier. ‘BJP will lose’ is our only slogan,” she said.
Addressing a large crowd of supporters in central Kolkata amidst pouring rain, Mamata Banerjee declared that in 2024, “India will be created anew.” She stated, “We do not care about the chair (of the Prime Minister). We just want to get rid of the BJP.”
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Mamata Banerjee criticised the Narendra Modi government for the unrest and atrocities in Manipur and extended her support to the people of the State. She said, “On behalf of INDIA, we want to tell the people of Manipur that we are with you”.
Referring to recent videos of women in Manipur being sexually assaulted and paraded naked, Mamata said, “You people (the BJP) coined the slogan, ‘beti bachao’ (save daughters). What happened to that slogan? Today daughters are being burnt alive. Today Manipur is burning; the whole country is burning. You released those who were involved in the Bilkis Bano case. You have given bail to the person (Brij Bhushan Singh) accused in the wrestlers’ sexual harassment case... If you continue to disrespect women, mark my words, in the coming elections, the women of India will throw you out.”
She expressed her intention to organise a team from the opposition alliance to visit Manipur and stated, “I have spoken to Arvind (Kejriwal). We want a team from INDIA to visit Manipur.”
Raising the 100 Days’ Work wrangle
Trinamool also announced a protest programme in New Delhi against the Centre freezing funds for the 100 Days’ Work programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the State. Mamata Banerjee stated that around Rs.7,000 crore is due to the State from the Centre. “If that money is not given to us, then on Gandhiji’s birth anniversary on October 2, we will stage a dharna in Delhi...” she said.
Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, Lok Sabha MP and party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee had previously announced a State-wide program of “Gana Gherao” (mass gherao) of local BJP leaders across the State. “Make a list of BJP leaders in your area all across the State from the booth level. On August 5, in a peaceful manner, ‘gherao’ their houses for 8 hours. Do not lay hands on them... We can do this or beg to Delhi to release funds for the 100 Days’ Work. We will not bow our heads to the outsiders of Delhi,” said Abhishek.
Mamata Banerjee suggested that the gherao programme be done at the block level, not the booth level, and the gherao should take place 100 metres away from the house of the BJP leader. “The BJP leaders here are saying that they are responsible for stopping the funds for 100 Days’ Work. If they have stopped it, then they will have to answer for it. You will not be able to starve Bengal,” said Mamata Banerjee. She alleged that one of the main reasons behind the Centre’s actions is because they are “envious” of the social security programmes undertaken by the State government. “West Bengal has reduced poverty by 11 per cent in the last one year, and 26 per cent over the last 10 years. In employment generation, West Bengal has increased by 40 per cent, while it has reduced by 45 per cent nationally,” she said.
However, the issue of violence and allegations of rigging by the ruling party in the panchayat election were clearly weighing heavily on the party at a time when Mamata Banerjee is seen playing an important role in taking on the Modi government. She pointed out that most of those killed in the violence were Trinamool workers. “Will Trinamool kill its own people?” she asked. “Out of the 71,000 booths, there were problems in only three places… We have given every family Rs.2 lakh and a job as a special home guard. We do not differentiate on the basis of parties. The BJP’s plan is to create situations, create fake videos, and humiliate Bengal,” she said.
On the Prime Minister’s recent statement on the “widespread violence and continuous bloodshed taking place in Bengal”, Mamata Banerjee struck back: “Prime Minister, I have one question for you: You point your finger at Bengal, but did the situation in Manipur not upset you at all? Do you have no sympathy for the mothers and sisters? For how long will women burn? For how long will Dalit people burn? For how long will minorities die? You people are merchants of murder...”
Interestingly, while Mamata Banerjee attacked both the BJP and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front, the Congress was conspicuously absent from the line of fire.
Meanwhile, in another development, late in the morning of July 21, as preparations were in full swing for the Martyr’s Day Rally, a black car with a police sticker on it reportedly tried to enter the restricted area outside Mamata Banerjee’s residence in South Kolkata. The driver of the vehicle, Sheikh Nur Alam, who was armed and carrying fake identity cards of various government agencies, was detained and taken in for questioning.
Kolkata Police Commissioner Vineet Goyal said, “The man was carrying firearms, one kukri, ganja, and several identity cards of different agencies like BSF and others in the car. He wanted to meet the Chief Minister. We need to know why he wanted to meet (her). Considering the fact that the Chief Minister is a Z-category protectee, this is a serious issue. We are trying to find out what his actual purpose was,” said Goyal.