Mamata Banerjee sits beside her helicopter in Chopra, North Dinajpur, waiting to fly to the Hasimara air force base in Jalpaiguri, 162km away, on Friday. She held her last rally on Friday in Chopra. Trinamul sources said the chief minister reached the Mahatma Gandhi High School grounds in Chopra, where the chopper was waiting, around 4.05pm. She waited for over half an hour as the Bagdogra air traffic control in Siliguri and the Hashimara air base had not given the chopper clearance to fly. Mamata took off at 4.37pm after getting the clearance. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Chopra, April 11: Mamata Banerjee today accused the BJP and Narendra Modi of trying to divide Bengal but studiously skirted the specific corruption charges levelled against her government by him.
Modi had yesterday strayed from the beaten track to attack Mamata on corruption — something few visiting politicians attempt, considering the Bengal chief minister’s image of honesty and simplicity.
The BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister had raked up the Saradha scandal and the financial fraud at the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority. “These people have carried out so much loot in such a short period…. Just imagine what they will do if they get more time,” Modi had said at a BJP rally in Siliguri.
The Left, the principal Opposition in Bengal, had tried to make Saradha an issue but it had not made much headway, probably because of the CPM’s own crisis of credibility in the wake of electoral debacle after debacle.
But Modi, unhindered by the absence of baggage in Bengal though he is facing charges of crony capitalism elsewhere, has raised the Saradha deposit default at a time the shadow of the scandal is again creeping up on the state’s political landscape.
The Supreme Court, which has been making several scathing observations in the Saradha case and laying stress on unearthing the “larger conspiracy”, had asked the government to explain by April 16 why the CBI should not be asked to probe the default.
The next day — April 17 —the first round of Lok Sabha elections in Bengal will be held. Some key Trinamul leaders have been accused of having been hand in glove with the Saradha promoter, Sudipta Sen. The group’s projection of its perceived proximity to the top political leadership is being seen as the primary reason that prompted many poor people to invest in the company’s schemes.
When Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited the Dooars last month, he attacked the Trinamul government for poor condition of roads and lack of development in Bengal under Mamata’s regime but he chose to steer clear of the alleged scams that local Congress leaders have been mentioning in almost all rallies.
Modi this time echoed BJP state president Rahul Sinha, who has been targeting the Trinamul government for alleged involvement in financial scams.
Mamata, who never misses an opportunity to establish how “poor” her party is, today steered clear of the scathing charges that are usually hurled at the UPA regime.
The Bengal chief minister had ample opportunities to rebut the charges today — she spoke for 30 minutes each at three public meetings in Karandighi, Islampur and Chopra in North Dinajpur. Not to mention Facebook on which she had cited statistics last night to question Modi’s growth record in Gujarat.
“This is a bit surprising because she is very touchy about her image of an honest politician,” said a senior Trinamul leader.
Several times in the past, Mamata has said that she doesn’t draw the salary she is entitled to as chief minister and lives in a small room in the family’s humble home at 30B Harish Chatterjee Street.
Mamata did attack Modi but the focus was on his rush to be Prime Minister.
“The Lok Sabha elections are held to elect MPs…. Our country doesn’t have a system of electing Prime Ministers and Presidents,” said Mamata, who referred to “spring cuckoos” who fly in at election time. She had bestowed the same ornithological sobriquet on Rahul Gandhi once.
At all three meetings — held in areas with a significant minority population —Mamata took care to refer to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
“You tell me, what should be the main attribute of a country’s leader? Think about Gandhiji, who was a leader of the entire country, not of a particular community,” said the Bengal chief minister. “Those who have blood on their hands from riots cannot be leaders of a country,” she added.