Three ‘assaults’ that marked Mamata Banerjee’s rise through street politics
- Allegations of physical assault against her adversaries have marked West Bengal chief minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s career.
Whether it was the street fight against the ruling Marxists as a youth Congress leader in the 1980s and 1990s or the tirade against former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s industrial policies in her avatar as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief, allegations of physical assault against her adversaries have marked West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s career.
On August 16, 1990, when Banerjee was about to lead a youth Congress agitation at Hazra in south Kolkata, Bengal was rocked by the news of an assault on her by Lalu Alam, a CPI(M) youth wing worker. Images of Banerjee, with her head wrapped in bandage, and reports suggesting how the injuries might have crippled or killed her, shot the sale of newspapers.
Banerjee, who had made news in 1984 by defeating CPI(M) veteran Somnath Chatterjee in the Jadavpur Lok Sabha election, shot in national politics as a member of Rajiv Gandhi’s team of young leaders.
Nineteen years after that incident, Alam was acquitted by the court in 2019.
Banerjee recounts the alleged assault at political rallies even today. “They (BJP) keep parroting the words didi and bhatija (nephew). I feel bad when I see Abhishek facing this because of me. He was a child when he saw me getting injured in that attack. After growing up he wanted to join politics,” Banerjee said at a rally on February 18, countering Union home minister Amit Shah, who targeted her and Abhishek Banerjee at a BJP rally in South 24 Parganas district the same day.
In October 1998, news of another alleged assault spread faster than wildfire.
A decree from a Kolkata court had empowered the police to evict around 70 families of declared squatters from Bedi Bhawan, an expensive piece of land covered by a dilapidated property at Golpark in south Kolkata. When a huge police contingent reached the spot, they found Banerjee and her supporters. When her demand, that the court order be discussed with the residents, was not met, she entered into an altercation with the officers. As mercury rose, Banerjee alleged that the police assaulted her. She also alleged that someone had bitten her and torn her saree.
Within an hour, people even in remote parts of Bengal heard rumours that she had been killed in a skirmish with the police. Railway tracks and national highways were blocked for hours. In the ransacking that took place, workers of the BJP, which was then an ally of the TMC, were also arrested.
The third incident, which left a scar on the Bengal assembly, took place on November 30, 2006.
Banerjee, then an MP, was on her way from Kolkata to Singur in Hooghly district to protest the Left Front government’s decision to hand over 990 acres of farmland to Tata Motors when she was allegedly stopped by the police on the highway. She returned to Kolkata and headed straight for the assembly house.
Banerjee alleged before TMC lawmakers that she had been assaulted by some policemen. The MLAs vandalized furniture at random places. TMC workers tried to block traffic and shut down shops. The party called a 12-hour bandh.