Mamata Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia and Mithun Chakraborty at Chowrasta in Darjeeling on Sunday. Picture by Suman Tamang
April 13: Mamata Banerjee today asked people in the plains to vote as a bloc for Trinamul and appealed to Siliguri’s Marwari trader community in Hindi to shun the BJP, in a bid to counter the Narendra Modi wave and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s support to the national party.
This is the first time the Bengal chief minister has appealed to the electorate of a particular region not to let the vote split in what has emerged a four-cornered contest in Bengal.
The Darjeeling seat has traditionally gone to a party that has got the support of hill outfits. This time, like in the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has tied up with the Morcha in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar — all vote on April 17.
Siliguri, where Mamata appealed for an en bloc vote to her party, is part of the Darjeeling seat.
The issue that divides the plains and the hills is Gorkhaland. While in the hills the statehood cause has overwhelming support, in the plains most voters are against the demand.
The BJP’s stated position is that it favours creation of smaller states, the reason why it has the Morcha’s support. In the plains, the BJP may find appeal among Siliguri’s Hindi-speaking Marwari business community, which numbers over 80,000.
Mamata’s appeal to plains voters, and specifically to the trader community, has come in this backdrop, though in an interview to PTI today, the Bengal chief minister rubbished the theory that the BJP could cut into Trinamul’s vote. “They are na ghar ka, na ghat ka (neither here nor there). Only during election season, they come to Bengal to create division among people. They will not get even one seat from Bengal.”
Mamata has also repeatedly attacked Modi in recent days, calling the BJP prime ministerial candidate the “face of the riots”.
Today in Siliguri, she told the rally at the Bagha Jatin grounds: “Daya kore samataler vote bhangben na. Amader kei vote din. Ekta vote anya kauke deben na (Please do not divide the votes in the plains. Vote for us. Do not vote any other party).”
Appealing to the Hindi-speaking trader community, she said: “Main vinti karna chahungi ke aap meherbani karkey BJP ko vote mat dijiye (I request you not to vote for the BJP).”
She reminded them that the BJP was fighting the election on the plank of dividing the state. “In case there is a law-and-order problem, and your business gets affected, the BJP will not be able to come to your rescue,” she said.
Hours before her Siliguri rally, Mamata was at the Darjeeling Chowrasta, where her dais had a motley presence of hill community leaders — from among Lepchas, Limbus, Sherpas and Bhutias —who have tilted towards Trinamul. The GNLF, too, has said it would support Trinamul, but no leader from Subash Ghisingh’s party was seen on the dais today.
Mamata has systematically wooed small hill communities — granting separate development boards for some of them — and tried to chip away bit by bit at the Morcha’s base. “They (the Morcha) have been given GTA…. Kuchh kaam nahin ho raha (No work is being done)…. Khali aag lagane se kaam nahin hota (Stoking a fire only is not going to work),” she said.
Asked about Mamata’s assertion to PTI, that Trinamul could win all 42 seats in Bengal and the BJP none, a minister said: “Mamata feels that her persistent criticism of the BJP’s communal politics… has sent out a negative message across to people about Modi.” According to the Trinamul minister, the chief minister was targeting Modi to ensure that the “so-called Modi wave must not cost her vote bank”.
A senior Trinamul minister suggested that the BJP at best may increase its vote share in certain districts cashing in on the “Modi wave”.
“The party may increase its vote share in such seats as Krishnagar, Serampore, Dum Dum, Basirhat and Asansol but nowhere would it win a seat,” he said.
State BJP president Rahul Sinha, however, said the chief minister was “scared of the BJP’s steady consolidation” across Bengal because of the Modi wave sweeping across the country.
“Mamatadi is making tall claims about her party’s victory in all 42 seats because she is scared of our bright electoral prospects,” he said. “Take it from me. The BJP will not only win a couple of seats defeating Trinamul nominees, it would also emerge a formidable force in a good number of seats,” Sinha added.
To substantiate the claim that the BJP was an emerging force in Bengal, a state BJP leader said though they had fared poorly in the last year’s rural polls, they had done well in the Howrah municipal polls, held only four months back. “Our candidate in the Howrah civic polls had defeated the outgoing CPM mayor and a Trinamul nominee. So, Mamata should read the writing on the wall.”
Mithun in hills
Mamata Banerjee today announced that actor and Rajya Sabha member Mithun Chakraborty would be in charge of Darjeeling, but she did not specify what his work would be.
She also requested Mithun and Bhaichung Bhutia, the Darjeeling trinamul candidate to dance. Mithun obliged by singing one stanza from the song I am a Disco Dancer and stopped.
“I promise I will return and dance with Bhaichung. Bhaichung ko leke aake dance karunga. Uss din dekhna (I will bring Bhaichung and dance. You will see that day),” he told the crowd at Chowrasta.