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Delhi damper on Gujarat rally
Debacle cloud on date in west

Calcutta, March 13: Ahmedabad will have to wait for its first date with Mamata Banerjee.

The chief minister was scheduled to address a rally in the Gujarat city on March 20 to take on the lion in his den and send a message to Muslim voters in Bengal that she had nothing to do with Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Muslims make up 28 per cent of Bengal’s population.

But for the time being, a pause button has been pressed on the plan, Trinamul sources said today. But none of the party’s senior leaders was willing to officially say why the rally would not be held as scheduled on March 20.

Pravinsinh Jadeja, the head of the Gujarat Samata Party that is going to merge with Trinamul, was more forthcoming. He told The Telegraph: “The March 20 rally in Ahmedabad has been postponed. We have to fix a new date.”

He said he would reach Calcutta tomorrow to meet the Trinamul leadership and decide on another date for the rally. Jadeja said he would also discuss the modalities of the merger and finalise the candidates for the Lok Sabha elections.

Apart from Anna Hazare, who stayed away from the rally in Delhi that Mamata was supposed to jointly address with him yesterday, the Bengal chief minister has to depend on Jadeja’s party to draw crowds in Gujarat.

Jadeja, a former Congressman and minister, has been heading the Samata Party in Gujarat since 1998. He had refused to dissolve the Gujarat unit even after the parent party merged with the JD(U) in 2004. The Gujarat Samata Party does not have an elected representative and according to sources, is hardly considered a force to reckon with.

Jadeja had secured the local civic body’s permission to hold the rally at Ahmedabad’s Kankaria football ground, which can accommodate 50,000 people.

“Now that the rally has been postponed, it can be held only after April 2 as the process of filing nominations for the Lok Sabha polls will begin shortly,” said Jadeja, who was confident of putting up a better show for Mamata in Ahmedabad than yesterday’s Ramlila Maidan public meeting that witnessed a low turnout.

Although Mamata had said yesterday that she had attended the Ramlila rally on the “invitation” of Anna, the poor turnout embarrassed Trinamul.

Sources said the decision to defer the Ahmedabad rally — Mamata had yesterday iterated her decision to campaign in Gujarat — was taken because of the poor show in Delhi.

Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy, who had played an important role in organising a meeting between Anna and Mamata earlier following which the social activist had said he would campaign for “good” Trinamul candidates, was not available for comment today.

According to Trinamul sources, Anna’s “reluctance” to campaign against Modi had also cast a cloud on the Gujarat rally.

“Mamatadi has earlier been critical of Modi in public. In Ahmedabad, we don’t think she would have taken a different stand. It has to be seen whether Anna would be comfortable sharing the dais with Didi when she goes all-out against Modi,” a senior Trinamul leader said.

Although Jadeja claimed that Anna wanted the Ahmedabad rally to be held after a few days as he was unwell, Trinamul sources could not confirm whether there had been any communication from the social activist’s camp after his no-show at Ramlila Maidan.

Mamata today put up a brave face, saying Trinamul would play a major role in national politics and her party would emerge as the third-largest in the Lok Sabha after the elections.

“Trinamul will play a major role in national politics…. We are not for any unholy alliance; people will vote for a good alliance. After the results, Trinamul will emerge as the third-largest party,” the chief minister said at Calcutta airport.

According to the Trinamul sources, Mamata’s immediate focus will be on conferences with party workers in the districts. On March 18, she is scheduled to speak at the first district conference, to be held in South 24-Parganas’ Pailan.

The sources said Mamata was likely to attend similar conferences in Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24-Parganas.