What Trinamul Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee had hinted at on Friday evening, party supremo Mamata Banerjee declared with certainty a little over 12 hours later: the attack on Abhishek's convoy was orchestrated by the BJP keeping the Kurmi agitation as a front.
The allegation from the Bengal chief minister was leveled despite the fact that the four accused arrested in the case by the district police so far comprise one local Kurmi leader, Anup Mahato, and three local residents belonging to the same community. All four have been slapped with criminal and non-bailable cases in a suo motu FIR lodged by Jhargram police and were remanded by the district court in police custody for three days.
A prominent Kurmi leader, Rajesh Mahato, was also detained by the police later in the day in connection with the incident.
Less than 24 hours after Abhishek provided a 48-hour deadline to the Kurmi leadership to come clean on whether the violence was perpetrated on his convoy with their consent, Kurmi leaders held a press conference in Jhargram on Saturday morning disowning involvement in the incident and demanded a judicial or a CBI probe into the incident.
“I don’t believe that this was a Kurmi-led violence. This attack was launched by the BJP under the garb of Kurmi agitation. They targeted Abhishek and smashed the car of my minister Birbaha Hansda who was also heckled,” Banerjee said at the Naba Jowar Yatra mass outreach programme of her party in Salboni where she joined her nephew for the second time in 22 days after sharing dais with Abhishek in Malda.
Rubbishing the allegation, state BJP president Sukanta Majumdar said: “Let her first decide who to pin this on. The Trinamul is trying to drive a wedge between the Kurmis and the tribals in the area.”
Both the CPI-M’s Sujan Chakraborty and Congress’s Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury blamed police “incompetence” for the violence.
Banerjee said, “The BJP has kindled an ethnic violence in Manipur which is now burning and over a hundred people may have died there though I am not sure of the exact figure. They are trying to do the same here. The party is pumping in money to create unrest in Jungal Mahal to spread enmity among the Kurmis and Adivasis of this region. One day you’ll suddenly find that clashes between the two groups have broken out. Then the Army will be called and shoot-at-sight orders will be issued. You will not even have the right to move court.
“Let me tell those who are resorting to violence that you won’t find me beside you and police will take appropriate steps. I am ready to extend any help to the Kurmi community for any development requirements they may have but I will not tolerate any kind of torture on the local Adivasis,” the chief minister continued and added: “I will first see that the law gets to those who manhandled Birbaha.”
Besides targeting the BJP, Banerjee was also introspective and critical about inner-party factional feuds within the Trinamul in Jhargram and its adjacent West Midnapore districts. Naming local leaders, including MLAs and MPs from the region, Banerjee said this factor could upset the party’s prospects in the upcoming Panchayat elections and asserted on the need for “leaders across ranks to work in harmony”.
Banerjee’s comments were in sync with her nephew’s approach to his outreach programme which, Abhishek has claimed, has been planned to understand the grassroots pulse and select panchayat candidates who are favoured by people on the ground.
“It is normal to have different personal opinions in a party as large as the Trinamul. But all must support the candidates for panchayat polls who would be chosen by the party,” the Trinamul chairperson said.
“Either resolve your personal disputes and help the party fight the elections in a united manner or else I will remove you from positions,” Banerjee sounded firm.
“The Trinamul will be unbreakable if the leaders work in harmony and don’t fight among themselves. The panchayat polls are a minor battle. The major war is up ahead a year later and you won’t be able to win the bigger one if you don’t perform well in the smaller fight,” she declared.