|Mamata at the rally in Esplanade.
Calcutta, July 21: On stage was a full Tollywood cast, and the day, thankfully, was overcast, but Mamata Banerjee showed “mellower” form than her previous Martyrs’ Day shows.
In what is the biggest annual event for the Trinamul Congress, its chief finished her speech in less than half an hour.
Her pet themes — the state’s indebtedness because of financial mismanagement of the Left, need for more central aid and the development work carried out by her government despite financial constraints — did not figure prominently in the chief minister’s speech.
The Left figured, but not prominently. The BJP, Mamata’s new threat in Bengal, was mentioned at the end.
“As far as I can remember, it was her shortest July 21 speech,” said a veteran Trinamul leader, who was with Mamata 21 summers ago when 13 Youth Congress activists died in a police firing during a rally she was leading towards Writers’.
The content of her speech, too, was discussed extensively in Trinamul circles as Mamata did not give any major political message this time, unlike previous years.
In 2011, two months after becoming the chief minister, she had rolled out a 10-point directive for Trinamul supporters, asking them to slog for her and let her work for at least 10 years.
In her second July 21 rally as chief minister, Mamata announced her plans to advance the panchayat polls, the first sign of snapping ties with the Congress at the Centre.
The July 21 rally was not organised last year because of the panchayat elections. But Mamata observed Martyrs’ Day on January 30 earlier this year when she made loud and clear her disapproval of both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi as Prime Ministers.
“Compared to her performance on any other July 21 programme, she was mellower today,” said a Trinamul legislator after Mamata’s speech.
The fact that she was silent on what her government had achieved on the industry front — she has always used public meetings to rubbish the Opposition’s allegations that the state has failed to attract investment — surprised several Trinamul leaders.
|The crowd at the meeting. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal and Sanjay Chattopadhyaya
Some in the Trinamul ranks said the turnout today was less in comparison to other years, but party leaders were happy with the crowd count.
Mamata claimed that “around 10 lakh people could not enter.… 90 per cent could not enter” the rally venue. Police did not comment on the crowd count, but some sources put the number at 2.5 lakh.
Some Trinamul leaders said they had expected the chief minister to rebut allegations of extortion against party workers, given the controversy over some Trinamul local leaders allegedly trying to extort money from Shyam SEL, a company in Burdwan’s Jamuria. But Mamata spoke only of “opoprochar ar kutsha (misinformation and slander)”.
Several theories floated in Trinamul circles about her lacklustre speech. Some of the theories were:
n The chief minister is not in the pink of health and so did not exert herself beyond a point
n She did not want to prolong the speech as there were chances of rain. She did not want people from the districts, who arrived in Calcutta early in the morning, to suffer. A significant number of people were from the minority community, observing Ramazan.
n She may have been a bit worried about chances of some Trinamul leaders getting implicated in the Saradha scam as the CBI has started pursuing the case with more vigour
n Mamata may take some more time before launching a full-fledged attack on the Narendra Modi government as she has hopes that the Centre may consider her request for a special package for Bengal.
Like any other rally, Mamata started her speech by thanking supporters and members of Tollywood, who got a rousing welcome from the audience.
She started by advising cadres on how to conduct themselves as she stressed that lobbying for positions will not help.
“You go and work silently in the villages…. I will zero in on good workers. Lobbying will not help,” she said.
Some in Trinamul construed this as a message to some senior leaders.
The first time she mentioned the Left Front — her biggest political foe in a career spanning over three decades — was midway through her speech while explaining to her cadres the need to develop grassroots connections.
“Look at the condition of the Left…. With due respect, I am telling the ideological Left members to come and join us. Don’t sell yourself for money,” Mamata said.
Several times during her speech, she had laid stress on “taka (money)” and iterated that her party would not accept money from anyone.
“I will start painting afresh ahead of the elections and will use the money to raise resources,” said the chief minister.
The reference to paintings came as a surprise to many in the audience. A Trinamul leader said she may have been responding to Modi’s jibe at her during a pre-election rally when he demanded answers from her on who was the buyer of her paintings.
The BJP, her main political opponent now, was mentioned towards the end of her speech when she reminded the audience that the new NDA government at the Centre had raised prices of petrol and diesel and raised rail fares. “There is no space for communal parties in Bengal…. Earlier they had only one seat, now it has become two… I can tell you that in the next elections, the tally will drop to zero from 2,” Mamata said.