The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Benny hits town, boys desert Didi
- Blame on rain for damp squib

Calcutta, Oct. 20: Her first stop was at Ballygunj Phanri. The time was 12.25 pm and the rain steady.

As Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee peered out of the window of her Maruti Zen to inspect how 'her boys' had been conducting the rasta roko, her brows creased and she looked anxiously all around.

She could not find a single supporter carrying out the protest programme against the arrival of Benny Santoso in the city. Turning to party president Subrata Bakshi, who was accompanying her in the car, Mamata asked: 'Subratada, where are our boys'

Bakshi, a shade embarrassed, tried to explain that the rain had played spoilsport. But this seemed to infuriate Mamata even more. 'Just because it is raining will we shut our doors and stay at home' she asked and directed her driver to proceed to Bijan Setu. 'At least there I have been told our people will be around.'

All along the way, Mamata craned her neck to see if Trinamul supporters were out on the road. They were not.

By the time she reached Bijan Setu, a 10-minute journey, her hopes seemed to have been dashed and she looked angry. Traffic was moving smoothly in the absence of her party's disruptions.

'What is happening' she demanded to know from Bakshi. 'What happened to our plans' For the last four days we have been urging our boys to be out on the streets, but on the crucial day no one's around.'

As Bakshi fumbled for an answer, Mamata decided that it was time to head to Taj Bengal, where she had been told that Santoso had already reached. 'Those assigned the responsibility of bringing in the people should be punished,' Mamata declared loudly. 'I will deal with this later in the day.'

Her only solace came on the way to the hotel when, on Ashutosh Choudhury Avenue, near the Ballygunj post office, she found some of her supporters walking in a procession.

Later in the day, after her demonstrations near Taj hotel and Writers' Buildings were over, Mamata hauled up party leaders Mukul Roy, Javed Khan, Partha Chattopadhyay and Tamanash Ghosh for their dismal performance.

Officially, Mamata blamed the rain for the poor show. 'This is the main reason behind the absence of our men from the roads,' she said.

However, Trinamul lead- ers privately admitted that the issue ' handing over farmland for industry ' did not excite the imagination of the younger supporters in Calcutta. 'The rain provided an excuse for many to stay away from the protest,' said one of them.

Party sources said there was also a communication gap between the leaders and the rank and file.

By the end of the day, 225 Trinamul leaders and activists had been picked up for trying to disrupt traffic. Far from Santoso's route to Writers', demonstrations were staged on College Street, MG Road, the BB Ganguly Street-CR Avenue crossing, Cossipore Road, Dhakuria Bridge and at Chitpur, Cossipore and Gariahat.

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