Mamata Banerjee gives ‘Oust BJP’ call at mega Kolkata rally

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who has opposed a range of central government policies, including the demonetisation drive and GST, has blamed the BJP for the trouble in her state.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2017 19:03 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Press Trust of India, Kolkata
‪Mamata Banerjee‬,‪Indian National Congress‬,‪July 21‬
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee addresses a rally in Kolkata on Friday.(PTI)

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Friday a campaign to “free India of the BJP” in the 2019 general elections, seen as a move to unite the opposition and stem the rival party’s push into her state.

She said her state would support any party that backs the oust-BJP campaign.

“The BJP has to be driven out of this country. Bengal will support any party that is opposed to the BJP,” she said.

The eastern state remains one of the final frontiers for the BJP, which is in power at the Centre and rules 21 states. The Trinamool Congress accuses the BJP of trying to polarize voters on religious lines and gain popularity through a witch-hunt against the state’s ruling party.

Banerjee made a pitch for opposition unity, saying 18 parties supported non-BJP candidate Meira Kumar in the July 17 presidential election.

Bengal will stand with Sonia Gandhi, Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and all those who will oppose the BJP,” she said.

The chief minister, who has opposed a range of central government policies, including the demonetisation drive and the goods and services tax, has blamed the BJP for the trouble in her state.

“Don’t underestimate the Trinamool. I will see you till the end,” she said at the annual martyrs day rally for 13 Youth Congress workers killed in police firing in 1993. At the time, she was a Youth Congress leader.

The focus of her 43-minute speech was the BJP, although she didn’t mention any of its leaders.

“I will launch the first phase of the movement in Bengal on August 9. It will be carried out in every corner of Bengal till August 30,” she said.

“The BJP is trying to silence us by using CBI, enforcement directorate and other agencies against our leaders. But the Narada and Saradha investigations cannot stop us. None of us is guilty. We will not bow our heads,” she told a rally attended by at least 600,000 people.

Banerjee’s party is facing corruption charges over the Saradha financial scandal and Narada sting operation. Besides, the state is saddled with communal riots 60km from Kolkata and a dormant movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the northern hill districts restarted this June.

She called the BJP a “party of rioters” and said the gorakshaks, or self-styled cow protectors, were gorakshash, meaning cow demons. The chief minister was referring to growing attacks on cattle traders by vigilante groups allegedly attached to the Hindu right wing.

She accused the BJP of spreading rumours through social media to disturb communal harmony in West Bengal. “They have turned Facebook into fake book,” she said.

Banerjee asked Trinamool supporters and activists to be vigilant. “Use social media properly. Counter them. Identify offensive and provocative posts and fake news. Report these to police. If our workers are watchful there is no need to be scared of Delhi.”

The chief minister said the BJP has failed on all fronts, including bilateral ties with neighbours.

“India’s relations with foreign countries deteriorated under the BJP-led government,” she alleged. “Why can’t it improve relations with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, which have borders with Bengal?”

First Published: Jul 21, 2017 16:50 IST