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Strike off, but no Christmas break in fast

Calcutta, Dec. 20: Mamata Banerjee today said her 48-hour bandh was being deferred because of Christmas.

“We had received a request from the Christian community to put off the bandh in view of the Christmas season. The bandh had been called to highlight people’s problems. But if a section of people gets inconvenienced, we cannot go ahead with it. So, it is being postponed…” Mamata said.

“But it is not withdrawn,” she added, hanging the threat of another shutdown, though the high court again reminded political parties that bandhs were “illegal”.

Mamata did not unveil her post-Christmas plan, but said: “There can be another bandh if the government doesn’t accept our demands. Let’s see what happens.”

Her hunger strike will continue as the government hasn’t “returned forcibly acquired’’ land to farmers. “Why should I call off the fast' Did the government pay heed to my appeal'’’

Earlier in the day, MLA Partha Chatterjee carried his leader’s letter to the chief minister requesting him to return some 450 acres to farmers who had allegedly not sold their land willingly for the Tata project in Singur.

“I believe the Tatas can be given fallow land, which is very close to Singur. Please do not take away fertile, multi-crop land for the Tata project. If you take a positive decision, we will also be able to take a decision to withdraw the hunger strike and call off the bandh,” Mamata said in the letter.

In reply, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “Please call off your hunger strike and the bandh. I appeal to you to take part in a dialogue on how to address the problems of Singur farmers…. I am ready to discuss anything under the sun.”

The chief minister mentioned in his letter that the government has already received consent for 954 acres out of 997.11 to be handed over to Tata Motors and that Rs 85 crore has been paid as compensation to 9,500 landowners. The distribution of cheques is still on.

He also requested the Trinamul leader not to make it a “prestige fight” and reminded that the Tatas would have built the small-car project in some other state had Singur not been offered to them.

“The Singur project would usher in a new era of economic development for the state,” he said.

However, Mamata put off her bandh much before Bhattacharjee’s reply arrived.

The chief minister’s letter was read out to her. Having heard its contents lying in her cot on the hunger-strike dais at Esplanade, Mamata said it was full of “untruths’’ and cited that as a reason for continuing with the fast.

“The chief minister’s letter is a tissue of lies. About 300 farmers have moved court to say that they haven’t sold their land,” she added.

The CPM “appreciated” Mamata’s decision to call off the bandh. “Now we request her to end her fast, too, and initiate a discussion with the chief minister to find solutions on Singur. The chief minister has already renewed his appeal for a settlement,’’ state party secretary Biman Bose said.

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