|Mamata Banerjee (top) pauses while addressing the rally at Esplanade; Sachin Pilot (above) gears up near the Gandhi statue as Priya Ranjan Das Munshi looks on. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal and Amit Datta
Calcutta, July 21: Mamata Banerjee found her voice over two months after a near wipeout of the Trinamul Congress in Bengal, but the language she spoke was of yore: bandh.
Trinamul today called a dawn-to-dusk strike in the state on August 2 — conveniently a Monday — in protest against the Left Front’s move to introduce a village-level pre-litigation conciliation board bill.
Shaking off her despondency after the Lok Sabha poll reverses, Mamata said Trinamul would fight the “draconian” bill tooth and nail. “I am now like a wounded tigress. If I start roaring, neither the CPM nor the Congress will be able to restrain me,” she said.
“We don’t hurt wild animals. Instead, we conserve them,” state CPM secretary Anil Biswas said tongue-in-cheek when asked if the government feared violence after the war cry.
Working Wednesday turned into a nightmare for those on the roads in the afternoon as procession after procession converged on the city centre for two rallies — barely a few kilometres apart — to commemorate one event.
Commuters were stranded on roads leading to the central business districts as thousands poured in, mostly from the districts, to swell the ranks at Mamata’s annual Martyrs’ Day rally at Esplanade and the Congress meeting at the Gandhi statue in memory 13 Youth Congress activists killed in police firing in 1993.
Mamata hinted at an indefinite statewide strike if the proposed West Bengal Block-level Pre-litigation Conciliation Board Bill, 2004, was passed in the Assembly. “We will paralyse the government. The bill is worse than the Emergency or the Esma (the Essential Services Maintenance Act).”
Politburo member Biswas was not impressed. “We will get the bill passed. We are asking people not to participate in the bandh. Trinamul is trying to disturb the prevailing peace by calling an unwanted bandh,” he said.
The bill has been drawn up in the interest of the rural people and there is scope for further discussion with the state bar council for its suggestions, he added.
Somen Mitra, a former state Congress chief, said his party would review the issues on which the bandh has been called and then decide whether to support it.
The bill, aimed at settling civil disputes in rural areas by a conciliation board before the cases reach court, has rocked the Assembly with Trinamul MLAs heckling Speaker H.A. Halim and law minister Nisith Adhikary and throwing eggs at Halim’s chair on Monday. The Congress, too, has protested in the House.
At the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road, state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee, now the defence minister, was absent. The cynosure of all eyes was the youngest MP of the 14th Lok Sabha, Sachin Pilot, sporting a flaming orange turban.
Attracting equal attention was the presence of water resources minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi with Somen Mitra on the dais in a rare show of strength. The two are generally not seen together.
“The Congress should forget its factional feud and unite to fight the CPM in Bengal. Those holding a rally a few yards away should return to the fold of their parent party. Only a combined Opposition can oust the communists,” said the minister.
Many are returning, he pointed out. “Sudip (Bandopadhyay) is almost in and many others will soon join us,” he added.
An aggressive Mamata today ruled out parting ways with the NDA and asked “disgruntled” elements in the party to quit. “Disgruntled party leaders are free to leave the party. I urge you to keep a close vigil on those party leaders who are in close touch with the Congress,” she said.
Slamming the Congress’ alliance with the communists in Delhi, she said: “The Congress is now the proven ‘B’ team of the CPM as I have been telling for quite a long time.”
Das Munshi said joining hands with the CPM in the Centre would not prevent them from stepping up a movement against the communists here. “So far as Bengal is concerned, the CPM is our main enemy and we will fight the party tooth and nail.”
Citing instances like the alleged starvation deaths in Amlashol, West Midnapore, suicide by jute workers, non-payment of PF benefits to workers and theft of Tagore’s Nobel medallion, he asked the CPM “ponder over your own misdeeds and misrule rather than threatening the Congress every now and then”.
Mamata too tried to embarrass the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government by presenting the family members of five persons who allegedly died at Amlashol.