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Mamata sniffs conspiracy in helicopter snag

March 31: Mamata Banerjee today sniffed a “conspiracy” in a snag in the helicopter that was scheduled to take her to campaign meetings in West Midnapore, forcing a change in the travel plan that delayed the events by almost two hours.

“You know I have to cover long distances for meetings. So I had decided on taking a helicopter to reduce travel time. But I was told that there was a technical problem with the chopper. I will find out later if it was a genuine problem or a conspiracy,” the chief minister told gathering of around 25,000 in Keshiari, where she addressed her first public meeting of the day.

The chief minister was supposed to take the helicopter, hired from a private company, from RCTC in Calcutta to Keshiari and the meetings thereafter. But her 30-minute flight to West Midnapore turned into a three-hour travel in a car after the technical snag.

Mamata, accompanied by actor Dev, the Trinamul candidate from Ghatal, arrived at Keshiari around 2.50pm, nearly two hours behind schedule. The chief minister addressed two more meetings in Garbeta (under Jhargram seat) and Keshpur (under Ghatal seat) later in the day.

She said such technical snags “cannot force me to change my plans”. “If I have given my word that I will come to a meeting, I will reach there even if it is at 2am.”

Sources close to the chief minister said she was extremely unhappy at the sudden change of plan and the consequent delay.

“Her schedule went haywire because of the sudden change in the programme. She would have liked to spend more time on the dais with the candidates and address the crowd at length to explain why she was aiming for Delhi,” a Trinamul leader said.

The 25,000-odd supporters who had assembled at the venue waited under the blazing sun for the chief minister’s entourage to arrive. Midnapore candidate Roy arrived around 12.30pm and waited for Mamata with other Trinamul leaders on the dais.

Trinamul insiders said that around 8.30am, the party top brass was informed that the helicopter had developed a “technical snag” and it would not be possible to fly the chief minister.

Within minutes, Pawan Hans Helicopter Ltd — a central government outfit that offers chopper services between Calcutta and five district towns — was asked to make arrangements for a helicopter to ferry the chief minister, the sources said.

“Around 9.30am, we were asked to arrange for a helicopterů. One of our helicopters was scheduled to leave Calcutta at 10.30am for an hour-long flight to Durgapurů. We called up the passengers and informed them that the trip had to be cancelled as we had to ferry the chief minister,” a Pawan Hans official said.

When the chief minister learnt that a Pawan Hans helicopter had been arranged for, she refused to take it as there was fear that it could amount to violation of the model code of conduct. Sources said that as the company has a tie-up with the state government for passenger services, officials wondered if taking Mamata to a political programme would violate the model code.

“This provision of the model code is a bit draconianů. If the chief minister is paying the usual rent, what’s the problem in her hiring the chopper?” asked a tour operator in Calcutta.