Didi’s martyrs’ day rally: Show of strength or call for support?

Mamata, West Bengal, The Federal, English news website
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee addressing a rally to commemorate Martyr's Day in Kolkata on July 21. Photo: PTI

A giant stage, a large gathering, massive police deployment and a renewed battle cry – what seemed like the Trinamool Congress’ annual show of strength on its “Martyrs’ Day” mega rally on Sunday (July 21) was, in fact, also a desperate call for support, especially to those who believe that the BJP is an alternative to the “misgovernance and tyranny” of the ruling party.

Calling out the ‘foe’

Addressing a mammoth crowd at Esplanade in Kolkata, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee launched an all-out attack against the BJP and the Left, renewing her demand for the revival of ballot papers and alleging that the saffron party is conspiring to destroy Bengali culture.

She reiterated her pre-poll demands to do away with EVMs, months after the BJP won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, throwing a direct challenge to her regime. “The 2019 (Lok Sabha) elections were a mystery, not history,” she said, adding that the BJP has won “only a few number of seats” in the state.

Banerjee used the phrase ‘old wine in new bottle’ to describe CPI (M) supporters who, in an act of jumping ship, have now shifted their loyalty to the BJP, given the decrepit state of the Left in the state.

Also read: Bengal BJP facing ghar-wapasi crisis as new recruits jump ship 

The Trinamool Congress observes Martyrs’ Day every year in memory of 13 Youth Congress activists who were killed in police firing during a protest march led by Mamata Banerjee on July 21, 1993. Mamata, then a youth leader, had led the protest march to the Writers’ Building, then the State Secretariat, demanding that voter ID card be made the only document to verify voters in order to check poll rigging. While in 1993, the main demand of Mamata was ‘No ID, No vote’, this year her party’s call is ‘Restore democracy. No machines, bring ballots back’.

In her Sunday speech, Mamata alleged that trains and buses ferrying supporters from various other districts were stopped and stoned by BJP men, to prevent Trinamool Congress cadres from attending the rally in Kolkata. She also accused BJP leaders of threatening to drag Trinamool Congress cadres from buses to incapacitate them.

A war cry for partymen

Her allegation against the BJP was punctuated with a war cry for her partymen. In a threatening rejoinder to the opposition, Mamata said, “Your (BJP) leaders are saying they will forcefully drag out our supporters from buses. Now, they must listen to me with their ears wide open – Aren’t you going to holds rallies in future? What if our supporters do the same to you?”

She countered the ‘cut money’ issue, daring the BJP to return their “black money”, with which, she alleged the party has built their “five-star party offices”. “You are the biggest dacoits and you are asking us to return back money?” she asked. She also asserted that the BJP was using central agencies to threaten Trinamool Congress leaders to make them join the saffron party, or else face prison. Incidentally, it was Mamata, who a few weeks back had issued a diktat to party leaders to return ‘cut money’ taken from residents.

She accused the BJP government of practicing communal politics and destroying the federal structure of the country. Accusing the Modi government of passing bills without debates in Parliament, she said the government’s arrogance over its absolute majority will not take it anywhere. She cited the example of the Congress government under Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89) which she said despite having over 400 seats, couldn’t run the government.  “Such ego is not good,” she said. “If the Parliament runs smoothly, the credit, goes to the Opposition, for facilitating it,” she added.

With most of her accusations targeted at the BJP, the chief minister didn’t forget her old rival – the CPI (M), banking on whose shortcomings she had risen to power in 2011. “They (CPM) neither have any shame, nor hatred, nor fear. Former supporters of CPI (M) have now taken shelter in BJP, the party which has no power of its own.” She alleged that the BJP, the Congress and the CPI (M) are united against the Trinamool government in the state.

Also read: Cong, Left rebuff Mamata’s oureach, hope a sinking TMC can help them float

Her rhetoric against the BJP was carefully culled, to strike a chord with the Bengali audience. She labelled the party as an “outsider party” which has no regard for Bengali culture. From recalling the violence that erupted in Kolkata at Amit Shah’s roadshow, during which Bengali literary icon Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s bust was broken at a college allegedly by saffron party supporters to stating that “RSS goons” are being brought to the state to create unrest, Mamata left no stone unturned to prove that the BJP indeed isn’t a right alternative in West Bengal.

No BJP leader was available for a comment.