With references to the Mahabharata and Durga Puja, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee kicked off her campaign on Wednesday for the Bhabanipur assembly bypoll to be held on September 30. “We have to play and win…we are not mice but tigers,” she said to Trinamool Congress workers and supporters, while repeating the TMC’s hugely popular Khela Hobe (game on) slogan and taking several digs at the Bharatiya Janata Party. The TMC chief accused the BJP of conspiring against her.
“They are more evil than Duryodhan and Dushasan. Because of their conspiracy, I had to contest (from Nandigram). But I am happy that I am back to my home, Bhabanipur,” she said.
The TMC chairperson is contesting the bypoll as she has to get elected to the state assembly within six months of taking charge as chief minister on May 5. She lost the Nandigram assembly seat to her former protégé Suvendu Adhikari, now with the BJP, in the state elections held this year. Bhabanipur has been a Trinamool bastion and was won twice by Mamata in the past. She decided to fight from Nandigram this time in response to a challenge from the BJP. Trinamool leader Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay, who won the Bhabanipur seat, has resigned to make way for Mamata.
In 2016, the TMC chief won the Bhabanipur seat with approximately 48 per cent vote share, down from 77.46 per cent in 2011.
Mamata expressed confidence that she would win again on her “home turf” this time, but urged people to come out and vote as there could be a “conspiracy”.
“We have to concentrate on high polling. This election is a challenge and will have bearings on the 2024 general elections,” she said at the meeting.
However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that were won by the BJP, the numbers of the TMC were not flattering. The Trinamool led in the Bhabanipur assembly segment by a thin margin of around 3,000 votes and trailed in the adjacent Rashbehari segment by 5,000 votes.
Responding to her remarks, Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “Whether she (Mamata) is a lioness or a tigress, we’ve seen that in Nandigram. She left Bhabanipur to contest in Nandigram. On the other hand, TMC workers started hurling bombs at BJP MP Arjun Singh’s residence early this morning. We can see how scared they are.”
In her first public meeting ahead of the by-election, the TMC chief concentrated on three things.
Mamata said though the matter is sub judice, as the CM has challenged the Nandigram verdict in court, she alleged that the BJP brought goons from outside during the polls.
“True, I lost in Nandigam…But I have also moved court alleging electoral malpractice…The case would not have been admitted in court if there was no prima facie evidence…VVPAT machines were compromised in many places, EVMs were broken,” she said.
Mamata told party workers that there should be no complacency for the bypolls and she assigned roles for each ward to ministers to ensure a greater push.
‘TMC victim of agencies’
The Trinamool chief alleged that since losing the West Bengal polls, and with her party looking to expand its influence across the country, the BJP at the Centre is panicking and that’s why it has been using investigating agencies to harass TMC leaders. Why are people being summoned to Delhi when the cases are from Kolkata, she asked while pointing out that her nephew and party leader Abhishek Banerjee is being questioned repeatedly over corruption allegations.
“They name Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee (TMC leaders) in the Narada case. But the real culprit goes unnamed. Everyone knows what’s going on in this country and who is pulling the strings,” she said, taking a dig at former Trinamool leader Suvendu Adhikari, who was also embroiled in the scandal when videos from a sting operation conducted by Narada news portal founder Mathew Samuel ahead of the 2016 assembly elections purportedly showed 13 TMC ministers and leaders accepting bribes in return for favours.
Mamata also referred to how top leaders of other opposition outfits like the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Samajwadi Party too are allegedly harassed by the BJP using central agencies.
Durga Puja controversy
The BJP on Tuesday complained to the Election Commission that Mamata Banerjee had violated the model code of conduct for polls as the TMC government declared a grant of Rs 50,000 each to all 36,000 Durga Puja clubs in the state. The party alleged that the announcement, which has actually become an annual affair for the ruling party, was made to influence the electoral process.
“At times they say I stop Durga Puja celebrations. Now when I am supporting puja, they are going to EC to complain…I know the rules. They are totally dumb,” said Mamata.
The TMC is now attempting to corner the BJP over the issue by alleging that the saffron party is trying to stop the state government from supporting Durga Puja celebrations and this is an insult to the goddess.