The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mamata rally minus PM plus George

Calcutta, Jan. 5: Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee is expected to launch another tirade against the ruling communists and kick-off the party’s campaign for the panchayat polls from a rally on Brigade Parade Grounds tomorrow.

However, Mamata’s Brigade rally, after a gap of more than three years, will be somewhat lacklustre in the absence of the BJP’s central leadership. Leaders from the state BJP, including president Tathagata Roy, are expected to attend the meet that is threatening to throw afternoon traffic out of gear.

At her south Calcutta residence, Mamata said defence minister and NDA convener George Fernandes and her former junior railway minister, Digvijay Singh, will attend the meet. “I spoke to (Telugu Desam leader and Andhra Pradesh chief minister) Chandra Babu Naidu and he wished me success. He told me one of his representatives would attend the rally,” she added.

The last time she had organised a rally on Brigade was in 1999, when she presented her “Bengal package”. Among other prominent NDA leaders, BJP heavyweight and Union minister Pramod Mahajan attended that meet as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s emissary.

Trinamul insiders said though Mamata had personally invited the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, they were not likely to turn up. Other front-ranking BJP central leaders were not expected either. After the landslide verdict in its favour in Gujarat, the BJP leaders are not too concerned about a rally organised by a minor NDA partner like Trinamul, party insiders said.

Party workers were busy today identifying locations on Brigade to put up Mamata’s cut-outs and portraits on huge canvas placards mounted on plywood frames. The north-facing stage has been erected and finishing touches were being given to it this evening.

At home, it was hectic for Mamata. Party chief whip in the Lok Sabha Ranjit Panja, MLAs Partha Chatterjee, Pankaj Banerjee and Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Rajya Sabha MP Dinesh Trivedi and leaders Mukul Roy, Ashish Chakraborty and Madan Mitra were huddled together, organising food and shelter for partymen who reached the city from far-flung districts this evening.

“About 30,000 workers have arrived from north Bengal. Tomorrow, we expect thousands more to pour into the city,” said Mamata.

Old aide and MP Sudip Bandopadhyay was conspicuous by his absence at Mamata’s Kalighat home and among the leaders who worked on a war-footing for tomorrow’s show.

“Sudip has not been included in any of the committees formed to oversee the Brigade programme. But he is expected to attend tomorrow,” a party leader said.

Bandopadhyay said he would be there at the rally and was “busy campaigning for it” over the past few days.

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