Trinamul Congress second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee reiterated his party’s pledge on Saturday to “snatch the legitimate dues of the people of Bengal from the clasps of an autocratic central government” at about the same time the first set of buses rolled out of the Netaji Indoor Stadium vicinity carrying deprived job card holders to undertake a 1,600-km journey to Delhi.
Speaking from a virtual platform, titled A Fight For Our Rights, which was live streamed across TMC party offices across the state, Banerjee in his 18-minute speech lashed out at the Narendra Modi government saying, “If by denying us permissions to hold legitimate protests, by cancelling trains at the last minute and by sending ED and CBI notices, the Centre feels it can break the morale of the Trinamul Congress then it’s living in a fool’s paradise. We are made of different mettle.”
Banerjee’s message which asserted the party’s conviction to carry on with its pre-scheduled protest programmes in the Capital on October 2 and 3 no matter the odds, came less than a day after the Calcutta High Court directed the ED to take immediate steps to ensure that the scheduled examination of Banerjee on October 3 is not hampered in any manner.
The first set of buses carrying TMC workers and affected job card holders started for Delhi from Calcutta on Saturday afternoon after the railways denied a special train to the party last evening. Aas many as 24 buses, each carrying about 50 passengers, and five smaller vehicles had already hit the highway while quite a few others stood in a queue outside the Netaji Indoor Stadium, where affected beneficiaries from across Bengal have been camping since Friday, waiting to leave with party supporters.
In all, some 50 inter-state buses with all-India route permits stuffed with food, water and medicines have been arranged to move the protestors to Delhi and back, a party source confirmed.
MGNREGA job card holders and others affected by alleged blocking of funds by the central government upon their arrival at Netaji Indoor Stadium, before leaving for Delhi to take part in a protest of TMC in Calcutta on Saturday. PTI
“This is not a problem. We will walk to Delhi if we have to but we will do what is necessary to carry our voices to the Modi government’s doorstep. This is a call from Mamata and Abhishek Banerjee and this is a matter of emotion for us,” said a protestor on board one of the buses.
“We are, as it is, in a lot of trouble already. This additional trouble of travelling long distances in a bus is nothing compared to the pain we are currently in,” another job card holder chipped in. A significant number of the protestors taken to Delhi were women some of whom were also accompanied by children.
The vehicles would take about 48 hours to cover the roughly 1,600 km route which will pass through Asansol, Dhanbad, Varanasi, Kanpur and Agra before reaching Delhi.
A group of Trinamul parliamentarians, state ministers, MLAs and the party’s state-level leaders were also headed for Delhi availing flights from the city airport or the Rajdhani Expresses from Howrah and Sealdah stations.
Speaking to reporters at the airport, the party’s leader in Lok Sabha Sudip Bandyopadhyay confirmed that the leaders would be sitting at a special meeting in Delhi tomorrow to finalise strategies for the two-day protests. “My experience in Parliament tells me that the BJP is not a party opposing the Trinamul. It’s a party opposing Bengal and does everything to strangulate its legitimate voices,” Bandyopadhyay said.
On October 2 the day of Gandhi Jayanti, the Trinamul leaders are scheduled to hold a sit-in demonstration in Raj Ghat, the Mahatma’s memorial complex in Delhi, followed by a protest meeting at the Jantar Mantar on the 3rd that is scheduled to start at 11 am.
In his speech, Banerjee reached out to the BJP leaders of the state. “This is a people’s movement and not of the TMC. Answer your conscience and stand by the people of Bengal. You don’t have to strengthen my hand,” Banerjee said while claiming that the current dues of the state from MNREGA and the PM Avaas Yojna stand at Rs 15,000 crores while the state’s total dues from the centre has mounted to Rs 1,15,000 crores.
“If for argument’s sake, I accept that there has been corruption in these schemes, who stopped you from taking action against the culprits? But who gave you the right to hold 2.5 crore people to ransom for the sins committed by, maybe, 200 people?” the party MP from Diamond Harbour asked.
Banerjee appealed to panchayat-level leaders back home to conduct parallel programmes and candlelight processions in solidarity with Delhi’s sit-in protest on Gandhi Jayanti and asked them to participate in live streaming coverage of the Jantar Mantar dharna the following day.
“The Modi government has spent Rs 8000 crores for buying new planes for the Prime Minister and several thousand crores more building a new Parliament building. The PM and the Vice President are having their new houses built. But they don’t want to spend money for providing a roof over the heads of poor people,” Banerjee said.
“If there’s any attempt to heckle a common protestor from Bengal while their buses pass through BJP-ruled states then we know how to answer a brick with a stone in a democratic manner,” the leader warned.