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 reaching West Midnapore in a chopper and travelling in a convoy to the venue 7.5km away, with policemen guarding both sides of the road, the chief minister lost her cool on seeing the dais and the security arrangements around it.
“Stage kora hoyechhe keno? Ami to baron korechhilam (why has a stage been set up? I had asked not to),” Mamata shouted immediately after reaching the 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 Golam Ali Ansari and police superintendent Bharati Ghosh were around Mamata when she started walking towards the bamboo barricades. It was not clear, however, 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 ambitious 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 of the state. She came to Amlasole to send the message that she cared for the people. If she addressed the gathering from a 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 arrangement was 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 believed to be active, the West Midnapore police had made elaborate security arrangements. Local Trinamul sources said vehicular movement in the area around the programme venue had been stopped more than 30 minutes before the chopper carrying the chief minister landed at Kadamdiha.
“A lot of our supporters could not reach the venue because of security restrictions,” a Trinamul source said.
In 2004, Mamata had walked to Amlasole from Belpahari, 30km away, in a procession to protest the starvation-like deaths. Jhargram, 65km from Amlasole, is the nearest town to the village.
After refusing to use the dais today, Mamata 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 crowd, Mamata asked the villagers about their problems. She asked officials accompanying her to note down the names and addresses of the villagers.
The demands made by the villagers included a Madhyamik school, a proper health centre, training for livelihood and government support to encourage 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”.
“Speaking to those selected, try to understand the problems of villagers. Listen to their complaints. From the district magistrate to block development officers, every official has to go to the villages and work,” Mamata said, promising that the government would deliver.
Senior Trinamul leader Mukul Roy stood near the dais as Mamata interacted with the crowd.
A senior bureaucrat said: “Some roads and a few houses and health centres can be built. But that doesn’t mean that the lives of these people will change. For a real change, these people need skill augmentation and livelihood opportunities so that they can earn a living beyond the traditional way of hunting and gathering wood and leaves from the jungles.”