|Away from the dais, Mamata interacts with the crowd at the Amlasole programme on Tuesday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Amlasole (West Midnapore), Jan. 7: Mamata Banerjee today shunned the dais and broke the security cordon to mingle with residents of Amlasole, a remote village on the Bengal-Jharkhand border that witnessed starvation-like deaths in 2004.
After flying to West Midnapore in a chopper and travelling 7.5km to the venue in a convoy on a road lined with policemen, the chief minister lost her cool seeing the dais and the security arrangements around it.
“Stage kora hoyeche keno? Ami to baron korechilam (why has a stage been set up? I had said it should not be done),” Mamata shouted immediately after reaching the Amlasole venue — a playground. Around 1,500 people had gathered by then.
“Who has defied my order? Why has the barricade been put up? Who asked for the restrictions? Amake irritate korchhen. (I am being irritated),” the chief minister added.
Chief secretary Sanjay Mitra, district magistrate Ghulam Ali Ansari and police superintendent Bharati Ghosh were around Mamata when she started walking towards the bamboo barricades. It was not clear who was the target of Mamata’s outburst.
Sources close to Mamata said she was upset because she believed that a high dais and security around it could defeat the purpose of her visit to Amlasole — to flag off the government’s project of laying all-weather 1km roads from one of the remotest corners of Bengal.
This was the first time a chief minister had visited Amlasole.
“The chief minister is aware that this is one of the most backward regions in the state. She came to Amlasole to send the message that she cared for the people. Had she addressed the gathering from the dais, her objective would not have been fulfilled,” a source said.
Sources in the district administration said they were not aware that the chief minister did not want a dais. A senior official said the arrangements were made as part of the “protocol” for a chief minister, who is entitled to Z-plus category security.
As Amlasole is close to Jharkhand, where Maoists are active, the West Midnapore police had made elaborate security arrangements.
In 2004, Mamata had walked to Amlasole from Belpahari, 30km away, in a procession to protest the starvation-like deaths.
After refusing to use the dais today, Mamata first stood close to the bamboo barricades and addressed the gathering. Occasionally, she stretched out her hand to reach out to people.
“I don’t want to see starvation in Amlasole. Anahar er jowar noy, unnayaner jowar asuk (not starvation, but waves of development, should come here),” she said.
Then the chief minister went to the other side of the barricade and mingled with the crowd. Standing amid the villagers, Mamata asked them about their problems. She told officials accompanying her to note down the names and addresses of the villagers.
The demands of the villagers included a Madhyamik school, a proper health centre, training for livelihood and government support to promote tourism in the area.
The chief minister directed district officials to select 10 residents from each West Midnapore village and speak to them to “understand their problems”.