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Mamata eyes rally route to tough terrain
Mamata Banerjee

Calcutta, Aug. 3: A desperation to consolidate her party in West Midnapore before next year’s Assembly polls has apparently prompted Mamata Banerjee to make her August 9 Lalgarh rally “apolitical”, say Trinamul Congress leaders.

Mamata had on Saturday announced the rally under her party’s banner, only to change her mind the next day. The shift followed inputs from aides, who suggested that an apolitical rally would help shore up Trinamul’s rickety base in West Midnapore, where the party doesn’t have a single MLA out of the district’s 19, let alone an MP.

Of the 19 MLAs, the Congress has two legislators, while the rest belong to the ruling Left. Even in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when the winds of change had started blowing across much of Bengal, there was little sign of change in West Midnapore where the two Lok Sabha seats, Midnapore and Jhargram, were won by the Left.

The picture contrasts with neighbouring East Midnapore, where Trinamul is in a much better position. It won both the Lok Sabha seats, Tamluk and Contai, in the district, in addition to the zilla parishad, thanks to the Nandigram agitation of 2007.

Mamata’s move to hold an apolitical Lalgarh rally is seen as an attempt to get West Midnapore out of the CPM’s grip. She intends to do this by launching a Nandigram-style agitation in support of her demand for recovery of illegal arms and dismantling of the camps the CPM has set up to allegedly expand its base with the help of the joint forces fighting the Maoists.

Trinamul sources said Mamata wanted to strengthen her planned Lalgarh agitation by involving apolitical persons — like she had done in Nandigram and subsequently in Singur — to ensure the CPM was isolated from the masses before the Assembly polls.

“There is no denying that ours (Trinamul) is a weak force in West Midnapore compared with the CPM. Given that this is our first rally in Maoist-hit Lalgarh, Mamata has worked out a calculated move to hold the rally without the Trinamul banner. The formation of a broad-based Nandigram-style platform involving people from all walks of life would help us gain a firm foothold in the district. We shall carry it on till the CPM gets isolated from the people,” said Pranab Bose, West Midnapore’s Trinamul chief.

According to him, the rally stage, being constructed on a football ground in front of a school in Lalgarh town, would be named as “santrash birodhi manch (anti-terror platform)” and will have no Trinamul banners and festoons.

A district Trinamul secretary offered another logic for the apolitical move. “We have an apprehension that the CPM won’t allow the people to join our rally. It is not possible to fill the ground by bringing in truckloads of people from outside. So, an apolitical rally is the only option.”

The Trinamul secretary felt some CPM activists, particularly those dissatisfied with the leadership, could also come to the rally if it was held without a party banner. Members of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, which had spearheaded the Lalgarh agitation, could also feel at ease joining an apolitical event.

Intellectuals and rights activists like Sujato Bhadra, Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar have already decided to attend the rally.

A CPM state committee member feared Mamata’s Lalgarh rally would turn into a “sustained movement”. “I have a feeling Mamata has a larger design than mere holding the rally apolitically. She will carry on the agitation using the sentiments of tribal people till the Assembly polls.”

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