|The Congress’s Subrata Mukherjee and Trinamul’s Ajit Panja in Calcutta. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta
Calcutta, Oct. 9: A year ago, Mamata Banerjee was on the road in rain-washed Calcutta to protest against Salim Group boss Benny Santoso’s visit to sign an agreement with the state for a clutch of projects across south Bengal.
The roadshow had collapsed before it could be fully mounted as the Trinamul Congress chief discovered that her senior leaders and supporters had abandoned her.
The Salim projects are now becoming a reality.
Today, Mamata performed what can be called a reverse take, choosing to remain indoors after having called the bandh in protest against the acquisition of land for a Tata Motors plant in Singur and tasking lightweight party functionaries with ensuring it.
The outcome was predictable: with Mamata nowhere to be seen to enthuse the rank and file, the leaders of the day felt out of their depth.
Mamata, however, did not forget to “congratulate” the people for their response and “thank’’ the Congress for its “inspiring” role in the bandh.
As if taking a cue from the supremo, senior Trinamul leaders huddled at Mamata’s house on Harish Chatterjee Street while lightweights like Madan Mitra and Baishwanar Chatterjee tried to stitch together small processions.
Senior Congress leaders were an equally scarce commodity. At different points, sma-ll knots of Congress and Trinamul functionaries were seen holding aloft party flags, giving sound bites to television crews and shouting half-hearted slogans before being taken away by police.
Chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb said around 6,500 bandh supporters were arrested from across Bengal.
Union minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, state Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya and the party’s leader in the Assembly, Manas Bhuniya, restricted themselves to sending messages to the district units to support the bandh in a “manner suitable and appropriate’’.
Former state party chief Somen Mitra is holidaying in London.
In Murshidabad, Congress workers were missing from action. Asked about their absence, party MP Adhir Chowdhury said there was no instruction from the state leadership to take to the streets.
Former Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee led a rally in Gariahat and Golpark flanked by Trinamul councillor Rajib Deb and Congress-backed Independent councillor Debashis Kumar.
“I am doing all this for those rendered landless in Singur and in response to Mamata’s invitation. The talk about my trying to become state Congress president with Mamata’s support is all rubbish. I will explain my association with Trinamul if I am asked to do so,” Mukherjee said.
He is also “not eyeing” the Rajya Sabha.
But Mukherjee’s “active participation” appears to have worried key Trinamul functionaries — from Partha Chatterjee and Saugata Roy to Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay and Mukul Roy.
“Subrata has no place in Trinamul now, but it is for our leader Mamata to decide whom to take or leave out,” said Chatterjee. “She knows what is best for the party.”
If signs are anything to go by, the path Mukherjee is planning to take for a possible return to Trinamul is going to be heavily mined in the days ahead.
Asked about the lukewarm participation of Trinamul leaders, former Trinamul MP Ajit Panja told a news conference that his party’s policy was to ensure the people’s response was “spontaneous” and that it had succeeded in this regard. “We never tried to force a bandh on the people of Bengal.”