The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Venue half-empty, Naidu full-throated

Calcutta, April 24: Seeking to cement the now-off, now-on alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu today stirred the cauldron of panchayat politics.

On a day’s visit to the city to launch the BJP’s campaign for the May 11 elections, Naidu charged the ruling communists with terrorising opponents in about 58,000 seats and threatened to turn the issue national.

“The Centre will not remain a silent spectator to the terror and violence you (the CPM and its allies) have unleashed to win the panchayat polls,” Naidu told a public rally organised by the state BJP with Trinamul support.

“We shall organise a national debate on the issue and invite all political parties having faith in democracy to take part in it. We will unmask the Bengal Marxists at the debate,” he thundered.

But Naidu and the other star speakers, Mamata and Union ministers Tapan Sikdar and Shatrughan Sinha, had to be content with a wafer-thin audience.

At different points, Naidu and Sinha were seen making their displeasure at the crowd size known to the state BJP leaders on dais.

But nothing could deter Naidu from launching a vicious attack on the Left, especially the CPM. “They (the CPM) have not allowed the Opposition candidates to file nominations and even forced many of them to withdraw their names at gunpoint. They know they cannot win a free and fair election and, therefore, resorted to terror tactics. We shall not tolerate all this, they have crossed the Lakshmanrekha,” he said.

Referring to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s appeal to the CPM workers not to resort to any strong-arm tactic against the Opposition parties at the time of filing nominations, the BJP leader said: “What does this appeal mean' Are we all beggars who depend on his party’s bounty' To participate in elections is our democratic right.”

Mamata vowed to fight the CPM’s “terror” jointly with the BJP. “We will maintain unity at any cost and are ready to fight a political battle against the Marxists,” she said.

She described the pre-poll situation in the state as worse than militancy-riven Kashmir. “In Kashmir, people and parties willing to contest the polls were not prevented from filing nominations,” she said.

Naidu compared the CPM to the militant United Liberation Front of Asom and Bengal to Bihar. “Bengal can match only Bihar in continuing political violence, lack of democracy and poor development.”

The BJP chief also came down on the CPM for its “dichotomy” towards the Congress. “The Marxists are opposing the Congress in Tripura and Kerala but they are trying to befriend the party in Delhi,” he said.

Sharing a platform with Mamata for the first time in several months, Sikdar, too, went all out at the CPM.

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