The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mamata readies election plank

Alipurduar, Jan. 5: What was originally planned as a workers' meet turned out to be public address.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who kicked off her election campaign from Alipurduar Parade Ground here today, felt that no single person 'waiting for so many hours to hear her' should feel left out at the meeting.

'It was supposed to be a workers' meet, but due to the huge gathering ' and because we cannot insult any single person who has been waiting for me ' I declare this a public meeting,' Mamata said.

More than 10,000 people had gathered to listen to the leader speak.

Lashing out at the 29-year-old Left Front government of Bengal, the Trinamul chief said the Dooars, which once prided itself on its tea gardens, has been completely destroyed.

'In the last five years, 1,500 people in the tea gardens of north Bengal have died of starvation. The workers' dues have amounted to crores of rupees, but even then the state government is trying to shield the garden owners, who are cheating the labourers. We do not have any organisations in the tea gardens, but if the workers start any movement we are with them,' Mamata said.

The Trinamul leader is desperate to stitch up an anti-Left alliance. So much so, that yesterday she had announced that she would have no problem if a senior leader from the Congress headed the coalition.

Coming down heavily on North Bengal Development Council, which she claimed has not conducted a single meeting in the last four years, the Trinamul Congress leader said: 'Suddenly when the election is knocking at the door, Buddha babu holds a meeting. Not only that, he allots Rs 2 crore to each of the six districts of the region. This is ridiculous because an MP can spend Rs 2 crore for his constituency alone . Just imagine, the same amount has been given to an entire district.' Mamata also invited all anti-Left forces to form a coalition. 'I invite all the anti-Left parties to form a mahajot. In the 2001 elections, we got 60 seats, the Congress 26 and the BJP 57. That added up to 143. But since the votes had been split, we could not form the majority. But this time, only a face-to-face contest with the Left Front can prevent the anti-Left votes from splitting. This is possible only if there is a mahajot.'

The Trinamul Yuva Congress will organise a Paribartan Yatra in north Bengal in February. 'And I will come to inaugurate it. The yatra will start from the Teesta and will end at the Jalangi in Murshidabad,' she said.

Earlier in the day, Mamata had arrived in Siliguri by the Darjeeling Mail. Local Trinamul leaders like Gautam Banerjee and Krishna Pal were at the New Jalpaiguri station to welcome her.

True to her firebrand style, she refused the government vehicle that was provided to her and boarded a private car. Speaking perfunctorily to reporters there, she blamed the Left Front government for the pathetic condition in the tea gardens. 'The Left Front government is solely to be blamed for this. They have never done enough for north Bengal and whatever little they have done has always been concentrated in south Bengal,' she said.

Mamata, however, did not comment on the CPM allegation that her party was involved in the Purulia killings by Maoists.

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