The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Is this a joke' Mamata

Calcutta, Oct. 20: As if a Buddhadeb bearing a bagful of tricks were not enough, Mamata Banerjee today came up against rain god Varun and no less than betrayal by her own flock. Outfoxed, wet and frustrated, she lost.

“Moral victory” was all she could claim at the end of the day from an elaborate strategy she had worked out to wrap the city in an afternoon bandh.

The Indonesian Salim Group’s representative Benny Santoso ' the foreign investor she had targeted to stop in his tracks ' had a smooth passage from airport to hotel to Writers’ Buildings.

In chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s presence, he handed over a cheque for Rs 3.42 crore to the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation as the first instalment for a 65-acre site at Uluberia where a Rs 250-crore two-wheeler factory would be set up in 21 months.

“Don’t ask me about her so-called campaign. I have no time for tamasha,” said Bhattacharjee, for whom the Salim investment proposals ' they also plan an industrial zone and a health city ' have become an article of faith.

“Let us not waste time discussing inconsequential things, Bengal’s priority is different,” he said.

Standing in a drizzle outside Taj Bengal, the hotel where Santoso was putting up, Mamata thundered: “Eta Pratarana, this is cheating.

“Buddhadeb’s government has cheated our people. The Salim group has been brought in before time because they are afraid of us.”

Just as Mamata’s strategy fell apart, the government’s plan worked to perfection.

As the heavens opened up, Santoso reached the city from Moscow via Delhi in an eight-seater plane at 10.55 am, at least three hours before the publicised time of arrival.

When they hit town, unaware Trinamul Congress leaders and supporters were still giving final touches to their plan. Except a few, who kicked off their agitation on VIP Road from 9.30, most were not even out on the streets.

Even after sewing up all of VIP Road, the police switched routes and took the visitors through New Town, Rajarhat, speeding down a rain-soaked, empty highway. A handful of Trinamul supporters waved black flags near the approach to Salt Lake from Rajarhat. Mamata later claimed to have planted one in Santoso’s car.

The convoy reached Taj Bengal without encountering resistance. Around Grand Hotel ' word had been put out earlier that the team would stay there ' the police made a big show of throwing a cordon.

Three hotels had been booked and late last evening the police decided to take the visitors to Taj Bengal because the way from there to Writers’ is less congested.

Much of the time since morning and through most of the afternoon, rain beat down on Calcutta, flooding several roads.

But, more than Buddhadeb’s “trickery” and Varun’s untimely outburst, what was galling for Mamata was her absent supporters, who have always been ready to lay down their lives for “Didi”.

“Is this a joke'” she exploded on discovering that there were no demonstrations even at Ballygunge Phanri or Bijon Setu in south Calcutta, her bailiwick, though she had assigned responsibilities to chosen party functionaries.

“Have we become so lazy, so insincere that we cannot brave rain and come out on the roads on an important issue'” she asked Subrata Bakshi, Trinamul president.

In the next few hours she tried unsuccessfully to regain some ground by picketing Taj Bengal and Writers’.

Her only achievement of the day was the formation of Paschim Banga Ganatantrik Front, a grouping of 12 parties opposed to the CPM. “We will fight next year’s Assembly polls under this banner,” she said.

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