Bengal assembly polls: Abhishek and Suvendu trade barbs as poll battle heats up
Kolkata: Youth Trinamool Congress president Abhishek Banerjee, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, on Sunday accused former minister Suvendu Adhikari, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on December 19, of being “corrupt and spineless” and faced a counter-attack in less than an hour as the political slugfest in the poll-bound state intensified.
Narrowing the political battle between the ruling TMC and the BJP in poll-bound Bengal to a personal clash, Banerjee, who was recently branded by Adhikari as “tolabaaj” (extortionist), hit back from a rally at Diamond Harbour, his Lok Sabha constituency in South 24 Parganas district located adjacent to Kolkata.
“You called me a tolabaaj (extortionist) while you are the one whose name figures in the Saradha and Narada cases being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate. You were seen in the (Narada) video accepting money wrapped in newspaper. My name is not there in the files. The ED and CBI won’t be able to do anything to me,” said Banerjee. “You have no spine and joined the BJP for protection,” he added.
Addressing a rally that was preceded by a roadshow at Danton in West Midnapore district shortly after a public meeting by Abhishek Banerjee ended, Adhikari accused his adversary of misappropriating funds meant for victims of cyclone Amphan or beneficiaries of social welfare schemes. During the roadshow, Adhikari even chanted slogans asking people to save Bengal from “tolabaaj bhaipo” (extortionist nephew).
None of the leaders mentioned each other’s name but the spirit and content of the vitriolic speeches made things obvious. It is now almost an open secret in Bengal politics that Adhikari left the TMC because he was unhappy with organizational decisions taken by Abhishek Banerjee and election strategist Prashant Kishor who was roped in after the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
On November 10, Adhikari threw his first veiled challenge at the TMC while addressing a public rally at Nandigram, the assembly constituency he represented in East Midnapore before resigning from the assembly. On the year’s last Sunday, however, there was no pulling of punches.
Abhishek Banerjee dared the Centre and probe agencies. “f you (Centre) ever get any proof of my involvement in these cases, set up the gallows. I will voluntarily come and hang myself,” he said
At Danton, Adhikari said he did not raise his voice against alleged corruption in the government all these years because he was waiting for a time when the TMC could be ousted from power. “The coming elections will not be held in the presence of the state police. We will have Central paramilitary forces. People will give you a befitting reply,” said Adhikari.
“Bengal has to be won and presented to Narendra Modi. It is necessary that Bengal and the country is run by the same government,” reiterated Adhikari.
On Sunday afternoon, Abhishek Banerjee said, “Bengal is not an object that can be handed over to the Prime Minister.”
BJP national president J P Nadda’s convoy was stoned by some protestors at Diamond Harbour on December 10. This was Banerjee’s first rally in the district after that incident. It triggered a cold war between the Union home ministry and the state. The ministry unilaterally transferred three Indian Police Service officers who were in charge of Nadda’s security. The state has opposed this.
“People are aggrieved with the Centre’s policies. Some of them may have pelted stones. Nobody should pelt stones. We have to give our reply to the BJP through the ballot,” said Abhishek Banerjee.
Abhishek Banerjee also targeted the Prime Minister and the Centre.
“The Centre has suspended the area development fund given to members of the Parliament because of the Covid-19 pandemic but nobody raised a question when thousands of crores were spent on a new plane for the Prime Minister,” said Abhishek Banerjee.
“Over the past one month ,the Union home minister has come to Bengal, big BJP leaders have come to Bengal and Union ministers have come to Bengal because they cannot stop a simple five-feet-one-inch-tall woman who lives in a tin-roofed house. You are no match for even the nails on her fingers,” said Abhishek Banerjee.