Abhishek Banerjee has now set a timeline for his march to Delhi to take on the BJP-led Centre.
“Give me one crore signatures and I will snatch away the money the Centre has withheld from us for 100-days work,” the Trinamul Congress national general secretary announced at a public meeting in Alipurduars on Saturday, reminding the gathering of Netaji Subhas Bose’s iconic clarion call for freedom.
Banerjee declared that his party would embark upon a month-long programme of amassing one crore letters from families who are allegedly deprived of their payments for 100-day work and other central schemes on account of the Centre’s fund embargo on Bengal.
Banerjee stated that he plans to carry those letters demanding pending payment to the offices of the Prime Minister and the Union Rural Development minister in the national Capital and stop the latter from functioning by laying a siege in Delhi.
“The process of collecting letters would begin on 16 April, a day after Bengali New Year, and will continue for a month. I want one crore letters collected within that time. I will march to Delhi with those letters and see how the Centre ignores the voices of one crore people,” Banerjee said at the meeting.
“To the best of our limited ability, we would take the deprived people to Delhi, arrange for their transport and stay. We will march on the streets of Delhi and will render that city immobile if the Centre refuses to listen to its people,” Banerjee roared from the stage.
Assuring tea garden workers of the north Bengal district of the party’s support by building a political agitation to address pending Provident Fund issues, Banerjee also threatened to gherao the PF office in Jalpaiguri in July.
“PF is a central government matter in which the state has no role to play. I will ask our Trade Union wing to take the matter up on priority. We should submit a memorandum to the PF office and give them a two-month deadline to resolve the matter. If they don’t then we will gherao the PF office in Jalpaiguri with 50,000 people in July,” Banerjee warned.
Significantly, Alipurduars happens to be among the north Bengal districts where the Trinamul failed to deliver in the last few elections. The BJP swept both the lone Lok Sabha seat from the district in 2019 as well as all Assembly seats two years later. Banerjee picked on the fact to drive home a political statement.
“The Centre wasn’t able to stop our money when you voted for us in 2016 and we had 34 MPs from the state. Since 2019 you have shown your trust in the BJP and look what happened. This should be a lesson for us to throw them out of power once and for all,” he said.
Making an oblique reference to reported inner-party conflicts within the district, the leader spelt out the candidate selection roadmap for the panchayat polls. “It will be the people who will decide who their favourite candidate for Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad is. No local party leader will take that call. It’s my pledge that there will be no nepotism in the selection of candidates and I will personally conduct a survey of people’s choices,” Banerjee said.
The Centre-state faceoff over pending dues in central schemes like MNREGS, rural housing and rural road development has already emerged as a major political flashpoint ahead of the panchayat elections in the state and the general elections next year with Mamata Banerjee alleging that the Modi government owes Bengal over Rs one lakh crore under various heads.
Banerjee’s war cry came in the aftermath of 25 Trinamul MPs knocking on the doors of Union rural development minister Giriraj Singh’s office last week with demands to release funds but denied a face-to-face meeting.
“The time for pleasantries is over. We have waited for over a year now for the Centre to release funds. Our chief minister has written to the Prime Minister on multiple occasions. Our panchayat minister has paid multiple visits to Delhi asking for the money that rightfully belongs to our people. We will not wait any further. We will now speak to them in a language they would understand,” Banerjee declared.
Banerjee demanded that the Centre should hold investigations into MNREGS corruption in this state. “If anyone is found guilty, throw him in jail, give him exemplary punishment. But that cannot be your ground to withhold the money of the rest who have completed work and awaiting payment. You push CBI behind us at the drop of a hat. Why is there no CBI probe in 100-day work corruption allegation?” he asked.
“Unlike the BJP, the Trinamul Congress will not provide shelter to thieves,” Banerjee declared, adding, “The Centre has held back Rs 4000 crores for rural housing after sanctioning funds for 11.36 lakh families in Bengal. If they can find one instance of corruption in rural housing, we will stop asking for money.”
The BJP responded curtly. “The TMC may keep crying hoarse about Centre holding back funds but it has to realize that the Centre too is accountable to its people. It also has to provide answers. The Centre cannot support unbridled corruption and the institutionalization of fraud of the Trrinamul regime,” said Samik Bhattacharya, BJP spokesperson.
“Abhishek Banerjee may decide to climb Everest or travel to Antarctica and even reach Mars in his attempt to oppose Narendra Modi. But it is already a writing on the wall that Modi would hoist the Tricolour from the Red Fort on Independence Day next year,” he added.