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Bhangar cold to TMC meet

- Protesters stay at home, skip first rally since January 17 flare-up

Trinamul leaders on Thursday observe silence for the two villagers killed during the Bhangar flare-up on January 17. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha

Bhangar, Feb. 16: Trinamul's first rally in Bhangar since the January 17 flare-up met with a lukewarm response today as supporters of the land movement stayed away and barely a few hundred villagers showed up.

Although Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was missing, the public meeting was attended by senior Trinamul leaders such as Subrata Bakshi, Mukul Roy, Sovan Chatterjee and Firhad Hakim, all of whom addressed the gathering.

All four senior leaders sought "unconditional apology" for the violence, which left two villagers dead last month. The Trinamul leaders observed a minute's silence for the dead youths.

In scenes rarely witnessed at a Trinamul rally in Bengal, local leaders had to repeatedly request the thin audience over the microphone not to leave, saying the meeting would not take very long to end.

"This was supposed to be a local event by local people. Otherwise, we could have mobilised lakhs of people.... Frankly, nobody expected such a tepid response," said a Trinamul leader in Bhangar.

Minister Chatterjee, who is also the Trinamul president in South 24-Parganas, told the gathering: "This party is the people's children and the parents have the right to scold and discipline children when they make mistakes."

"For the mistakes of some, who considered themselves more important than the party, you have suffered. For that, we offer an unconditional apology."

Sources said Chatterjee was referring to Trinamul's Bhangar strongman Arabul Islam, who had allegedly muscled his way through to ensure the availability of land for the Power Grid Corporation's substation, which has been at the Centre of the protests by the villagers.

Besides issuing an apology, the Trinamul leadership tried to reassure the people that the power project would not come up in Bhangar if they did not want it. They also underscored the importance of the project, which is almost 75 per cent complete, to power distribution and transmission in large parts of south Bengal and warned the villagers against backing Left-wing extremists.

None of the Trinamul leaders referred to CPI(ML) Red Star, some of whose members have been arrested in the aftermath of the violence. They accused "outsiders" or "Naxals" of trying to foment tension in the area.

The protesters, however, remained defiant and stayed put in their villages today. Sources said they spent the day planning their own mass convention on Sunday, for which they have invited all political parties, except Trinamul and the BJP.

Accusing the Bengal government of "double standards", the villagers alleged that Trinamul was not serious about scrapping the power project in Bhangar.

"We do not trust the assurances given by these leaders. We initiated the movement after all of them failed us for years since 2013 and it will continue," said Mosharaf Hossain, a member of the committee formed by the protesters.

"We boycotted the rally spontaneously. There was no pressure," said Sheikh Abdul of Machibhanga.

Trinamul general-secretary Bakshi said the party would hold a bigger rally in Bhangar but sources said the possibility of such a meeting anytime soon looked grim.


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