Mamata Banerjee, Amit Shah slug it out in election rallies
The electoral battle in West Bengal intensified on Sunday as chief minister Mamata Banerjee returned to the campaign trail after her injury to say that “a wounded tiger is more dangerous”, even as Union home minister Amit Shah held a roadshow and emphasised that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will form the next government in the state by winning over 200 seats.
In her first public appearance since alleging that she was injured in an attack by a group of men after filing her nomination papers in Nandigram on Wednesday, the Trinamool Congress chief was on a wheelchair on Sunday as she paid homage to 14 villagers of Nandigram who died in police firing on March 14, 2007, marking the beginning of a long agitation against acquisition of farmland by the Left Front government.
Banerjee was the face of the Nandigram agitation, which played a role in ending the Left Front’s 34-year-long rule in 2011. She observes March 14 as Nandigram Diwas every year and leads a silent procession in Kolkata. Nandigram is once again in news as Banerjee is contesting against her protégé-turned-adversary, BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, from the Nandigram assembly seat in East Midnapore. Nandigram goes to the polls in the second phase on April 1.
“Let good prevail over evil. Have faith in me. I will move around in Bengal with my broken leg. Let’s play. A wounded tiger is more dangerous,” Banerjee said in her short speech after leading a silent procession in the heart of Kolkata. She also mentioned the Trinamool Congress’s popular election slogan ‘khela hobe’ (let’s play).
“I have gone through many battles. But I never bowed my head. I am in pain. The doctors prescribed bed rest for 15 days. But if I take rest, who will reach out to the people of Bengal? In that case, the conspirators will succeed,” Banerjee told a huge crowd at Hazra Park. A ramp was built next to the dais for her wheelchair.
Banerjee was injured in Nandigram on Wednesday evening when the door of her SUV slammed against her left foot. She alleged that four-five people in a crowd that surrounded the vehicle deliberately pushed the door. Opposition leaders have accused Banerjee of using the incident to gain political mileage.
A political row has erupted over injuries sustained by Banerjee as the Trinamool Congress and the BJP have traded charges, and large-scale protests have rocked the poll-bound state. Doctors in Kolkata said Banerjee, 66, suffered severe “bony injuries” in her left ankle and foot, besides injuries in right shoulder, forearm and neck.
The issue quickly snowballed into a political slugfest with the state’s ruling party blaming the BJP for the injuries and the latter accusing Banerjee of orchestrating the incident for sympathy.
The Election Commission Sunday concurred with its two poll observers that there was no pre-meditated attack on Banerjee during her poll campaign, and that her injuries were the result of a security lapse.
“I don’t have much time to talk. I have to leave for Durgapur immediately. I have a programme in Purulia tomorrow. We have lost 5-6 days. During elections even a second matters a lot,” the West Bengal CM said.
Adhikari, who hails from East Midnapore, has said that it was he who led the Nandigram agitation which continued till 2009 and witnessed many deaths.
Union home minister Shah, meanwhile, promised that after coming to power, the BJP will be successful in ushering in true change in West Bengal and turn the state into “Sonar Bangla” (golden Bengal) again. The senior BJP leader a roadshow at Kharagpur town in Paschim Medinipur district in support of BJP candidates contesting the West Bengal assembly elections.
Shah said that a huge turnout in the roadshow underscored that people wanted change in the state under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I promise that the BJP government will be successful in bringing ‘asli parivartan’ (true change) and ‘Sonar Bangla’ will be created again,” Shah said in a brief speech at the end of the roadshow. He said the BJP will form the next government in the state by winning 200 of the 294 assembly seats.
Elections to 294-member West Bengal Assembly will be held in eight phases starting from March 27 with the final round of voting taking place on April 29. The counting of votes will take place on May 2.
Besides Shah, West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Hiran Chatterjee also took part in the roadshow.
Shah will also address public meetings in Jhargram in West Bengal on Monday.
Before her procession earlier in the day, Banerjee tweeted: “We will continue to fight boldly! I’m still in a lot of pain, but I feel the pain of my people even more. In this fight to protect our revered land, we have suffered a lot and will suffer more but we will NEVER bow down to COWARDICE!”
Sitting in a wheelchair pushed by her security personnel, the CM led the procession along a 5km route from Gandhi’s statue in the Maidans to Hazra Road intersection located close to her home at Kalighat in south Kolkata. She was driven down to the Maidans in a car. In her speech, Banerjee also mentioned a head injury she suffered at Hazra 21 years ago. On August 16, 1990, when Banerjee was about to lead a Youth Congress agitation at Hazra, 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 remained in the news for months.
(With PTI inputs from Kharagpur)