Chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Tuesday that she would hold a dharna for around 30 hours from March 29 near B.R. Ambedkar’s statue to protest against allegedly dictatorial attempts to malign her government and deprive Bengal of its rightful dues from the Centre.
Although Mamata did not specify which Ambedkar statue she would hold the sit-in by, sources in the Trinamul Congress said she had probably meant one on Red Road in Calcutta and not in Delhi. However, there is a possibility of the chief minister visiting Delhi next week to participate in a non-Congress, non-BJP political exercise being planned by AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal.
“I will do this (the dharna near the Ambedkar statue) as the chief minister of Bengal to protest against this dictatorial attempt to malign the state government and deprive our state of its rightful dues,” said the Trinamul chairperson at the Calcutta airport, en route to Bhubaneswar to meet her Odisha counterpart and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik.
Mamata is scheduled to meet Naveen on Thursday, six days after she hosted Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav at her residence in Calcutta. On Friday, JDS leader H.D. Kumaraswamy is slated to call on Mamata at her Kalighat home.
These meetings take place against the backdrop of stern criticism of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress by Mamata and seniors in her party, with indications of her preference — at least at the moment — for equidistance from the BJP and the Grand Old Party.
Although there are murmurs that the meeting between Mamata and Naveen could be a stepping-stone towards the formation of an alliance of regional satraps ahead of the general election, BJD insiders dismissed the possibility, while Mamata played down the political significance of the talks.
“This is not a matter of united Opposition or anything (like that). It is a personal meeting, a courtesy meeting,” she said in Calcutta.
Naveen Patnaik. File picture
Asked if it was her desire to see regional parties stepping forward to take the lead ahead of 2024, she said: “Regional parties are always strong.”
“The central government just gives the policies, but the state governments are the implementing authorities.... So, wherever we go, whenever we meet somebody, we want to discuss the development of the states, the federal structure,” Mamata added. “But this meeting (with Naveen), I have decided it is a courtesy meeting, let me see.”
The Bengal chief minister will be in Puri for an hour from around 4pm on Wednesday and is likely to offer prayers at the 12th-century Jagannath shrine there.
“We have organised a number of functions, including a special puja for her. She will also offer prayers at the temples of Maha Laxmi, Maa Bimala, Lord Hanuman, and others located inside the shrine,” said senior servitor Jagannath Swain Mohapatra.
Mamata is likely to make a spot assessment of the land allocated by the Odisha government to Bengal for the construction of a guesthouse in Puri for tourists from the state.
Before leaving for Odisha, Mamata repeated her attack on the BJP-led Centre. “Not a paisa was given to Bengal under the 100-day employment guarantee scheme. This is the only state, (to which) nothing is being given…. We are spending our own money on (various central) projects,” said Mamata.
“I personally met the Prime Minister over the Rs 1.15 lakh crore due to Bengal from the Centre. (Union home minister) Amit Shah was here for a meeting, I told him, too. Everybody there has been written to, spoken to, repeatedly. Despite that, we can see a deliberate attempt to stop the funds,” added the Bengal chief minister.
Referring to the removal of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi’s name from the Interpol Red Corner notice list, Mamata has said people like him and industrialist Gautam Adani are the “best friends” of the Centre.