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CM rally hits rail hurdle

Balurghat, April 14: The railways have refused Trinamul permission to hold a rally at its ground on the outskirts of Balurghat on April 16, prompting the ruling party to allege “political motivation”.

The Balurghat Trinamul unit, barred from holding the meeting at the Chakbhrigu rail ground, has chosen a school football field in the heart of Balurghat town, one-third the capacity of the railway ground.

Adhir Chowdhury, the state Congress chief and the minister of state for railways, said the utility does not allow political events on its properties.

Chowdhury said: “The railways allow social programmes such as fairs but not any political rally. Mamata Banerjee was herself a railway minister and she must be aware of the rules. Then how can her party seek permission for a political rally?” he asked.

However, there is at least one instance of a political meeting at the same Chakbhrigu ground, where Mamata was a speaker.

On April 19, 2009, Mamata and Pranab Mukherjee, then a senior Congress leader, had campaigned for the last Lok Sabha elections at the Chakbhrigu grounds, Balurghat Trinamul block president Prabir Roy said.

The Congress and Trinamul were in an alliance then.

The meeting made news for another reason. The chopper carrying Mukherjee and Mamata ran out of fuel after reaching Balurghat, stranding the two leaders in the South Dinajpur town for two hours.

Mamata, the Opposition leader in Bengal at that time, had accused the then CPM government of “sabotage”.

Since the last Lok Sabha elections, the political landscape of Bengal has changed. Neither is the CPM in power in Bengal, nor is the Congress Trinamul’s ally this time. They are rivals in a four-cornered contest.

The state administration has several times earlier denied permission to the CPM and the BJP from holding meetings at venues chosen by them.

In April last year, the BJP had expressed unhappiness at being denied use of the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Calcutta for a convention addressed by Narendra Modi. The Gujarat chief minister, now the party’s prime ministerial face, spoke to workers at Mahajati Sadan, also in Calcutta.

In February last year, the administration did not give the Left Front permission to hold a rally in Hooghly that was to be addressed by former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The administration pasted a notice at the rally venue saying the meeting cannot be held as amplifiers cannot be used because madarsa exams were going on then.

In September 2012, in Arambagh, also in Hooghly, the administration disallowed a public meeting where Bhattacharjee was the main speaker. It cited the possibility of a “law-and-order problem”. The CPM held a smaller indoor meeting.

The Chakbhrigu railway ground has the capacity to hold around 30,000 people. In comparison, the ground that Trinamul has got now — a school field in an area called Uttamasha in Balurghat town — would hold around 10,000 people at best, Trinamul sources said.

Biplab Mitra, the Trinamul district president, said: “We had decided to hold the meeting on the railway ground near Balurghat station. It is the biggest ground…. But two days back, I was told that the railways had not given permission.”

He added that the party had earlier “not faced any difficulty in getting permission for public meetings here. It seems there are some political reasons behind the railways’ decision.”

Mamata is scheduled to hold three rallies in South Dinajpur on April 16 — at Kumarganj, Balurghat and Gangarampur — in support of the party’s Lok Sabha candidate Arpita Ghosh.

Trinamul sources said on April 9, the party sent an application seeking permission to use the railway grounds . But the divisional railway manager, Katihar, Northeast Frontier Railway, denied them permission.

The phone of the railway official went unanswered despite several attempts by this paper to contact him.

Trinamul Balurghat block president Roy said: “The ground at Chakbhrigu is a big one and it is outside the town. It would not have affected traffic and people movement inside Balurghat town. The alternative spot, the Uttamasha football ground, is in the heart of the town and not big. But we have no other way.”