Deepa breaks her fast with glucose. Picture by Bibhas Lodh
Calcutta, Feb. 2: A call from the Prime Minister minutes before he shared the dais with Mamata Banerjee prompted Deepa Das Munshi to call off her fast demanding an AIIMS-like hospital in her pocket borough.
Although Deepa, the Congress’s Raiganj MP and junior Union minister, wants the hospital to come up in her constituency, both the central and Bengal governments have pointed to “problems” in land acquisition.
The state government wants the health facility to come up in Nadia’s Kalyani because of its proximity to Calcutta and availability of land.
After calling off her fast 48 hours after she started it at the foot of the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road, Deepa said: “The Prime Minister told me the AIIMS-like hospital in Raiganj was not just his decision but a commitment to Priya (ailing Congress leader and her husband Priya Ranjan Das Munshi).”
“The Prime Minister said this was not my personal battle, but a battle of our ministry and the Congress party. He told me that I was not alone,” she added.
The contents of what Manmohan Singh told Deepa could not be independently confirmed. In the morning, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office had confirmed that Singh had called Deepa, who has testy ties with Mamata.
The Centre will execute the project and take the final decision on the location. But the state government will have to make land available.
A senior Trinamul leader said Singh’s phone call, made minutes before he met the chief minister at the bicentenary celebrations of Indian Museum this morning, could be construed as a goodwill gesture from the Congress before the Lok Sabha elections.
Deepa’s protest in the heart of Calcutta had the potential of straining the Congress-Trinamul relations further at a time the Congress has accused the Bengal ruling party of poaching elected representatives. At a meeting with Rahul Gandhi in Delhi last month, state Congress leaders had made a case against an alliance with Trinamul for the Lok Sabha elections. Rahul had refrained from making any commitment.
Deepa, who had earlier paraded 80 Raiganj farmers who were “willing” to provide the 100 acres needed for the AIIMS-like hospital, today threatened to launch another round of agitation if the state government did not accept her demands.
“We hope the Prime Minister will take some steps. Our protest is not just for the AIIMS-like hospital in Raiganj but the anarchic situation in Bengal. If the state government does nothing, we will hit the streets and launch a fast-unto-death,” she said.
Congress sources said Deepa left for Delhi this evening and was scheduled to meet the Prime Minister in a day or two.
State Congress leaders, some of who met Singh at Raj Bhavan this morning before he made the call, claimed they were disappointed that the hunger strike had been lifted.
“At a time many of our leaders are leaving the party to join Trinamul, our rank and file needed a sustained movement to lift their morale. It would have been better had the hunger strike continued,” said a senior Congress leader but did not want to be named.