Mamata Banerjee talks peace to shrug off pro-Naxal tag | india | Hindustan Times
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Mamata Banerjee talks peace to shrug off pro-Naxal tag

She arrived an hour behind schedule for her much anticipated meeting in the heart of Maoist-dominated Lalgarh in her trademark white cotton sari, hawai chappals and brisk pace to the thunderous applause of the 60,000-strong crowd and gave Lalgarh a new slogan. Rajiv Bagchi reports.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2010 02:21 IST
Rajiv Bagchi

She arrived an hour behind schedule for her much anticipated meeting in the heart of Maoist-dominated Lalgarh in her trademark white cotton sari, hawai chappals and brisk pace to the thunderous applause of the 60,000-strong crowd and gave Lalgarh a new slogan: Santras tumi Bangla Charo, Santras tumi Lalgarh Charo (Banish terror from Bengal, Banish terror from Lalgarh).

Heard by a massive crowd, which included a 2,000-strong contingent of the Maoist-backed People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), Trinamool chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee spelt out a simple message: let us have peace at any cost, let us have development.

A large part of the 20,000-strong state and central forces deputed to Monday's meeting had been sent to keep a close eye on the PCAPA members. The PCAPA leadership had said on Sunday they supported Mamata's peace initiative.

To drive home her agenda of development, the Trinamool chief had carefully chosen a medley of speakers to give the occasion an apolitical hue.

There was academic Sunanda Sanyal and poet Joy Goswami, protest singer Pratul Chakraborty and Pallab Kirtoniya, social activist Medha Patkar, human rights champion Sujata Bhadra, writer Mahashweta Devi and even the Maoists' prospective interlocutor Swami Agnivesh.

"This is what Didi wanted," said Mukul Ray, Union Minister and the man who organised the whole show.

"This is not a Trinamool programme. We want everyone with us in this war against terror and violence," Ray said.

"Maoists are not our enemies," said Mamata.

"Let them tell me what they want. If they want development for neglected tribals, so do we. If they have problems talking to me, let them talk to Agnivesh and Medha). I was indeed sad when Azad was killed," she said, adding: "The Maoists want schools and drinking water. I have told my ministers to do whatever they can for Lalgarh."

The peace initiative Mamata brought to Lalgarh, however, came riding on heavy security. Apart from forces, there were mine-sweepers, armoured cars and crack commandos on motorbikes.

"Peace too comes with a price tag," said a police official.