Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is back to doing what she does best… street protest.
Prior to leaving for her three-day trip to Odisha on Tuesday afternoon, Banerjee announced that she would stage a two-day dharna in Kolkata from 29 March to protest the BJP-led Union government's alleged discriminatory behaviour towards the state for stoppage of central funds. The rise in prices of cooking gas and alleged risking of public money invested in LIC and SBI for picking up stakes in the Adani Group would also feature in her protest agenda.
“West Bengal is the only state which has not received any funds for the 100 days of work this year. The same is the case with Awas Yojana and Gramin Sadak Yojana. We have taken up the work of repairing and building 12,000 roads in rural areas and the state government will pay for it,” Banerjee said.
Calling the move a “This is a deliberate attempt to stop the funds”, she added: “I have fought for poor people all my life. Rs 7,000 crore is pending under the 100 days work scheme. They have decided to withhold funds this year as well. I will hold a two-day protest near the Ambedkar Statue on March 29-30 as the Chief Minister of Bengal to protest against this dictatorial attempt to malign the Bengal government and deprive our state of its rightful due. The dharna will conclude on the night of March 30 and this programme will be taken across all blocks and districts.”
Banerjee held countless street agitations in Bengal as an opposition leader, including her 14-day dharna against alleged the forceful land acquisition by the erstwhile Left Front government for the Tata small car factory in Singur and her 26-day hunger strike in Esplanade in central Calcutta on the same issue, both in 2008, which are likely to still remain fresh in public memory. She held on to her street-fighting image even after assuming the chair of the state’s chief minister. Banerjee’s two-day sit-in demonstration at Esplanade to protest CBI action against former Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar in 2019 and her day-long solo dharna at the base of the Gandhi statue at Mayo Road in central Calcutta to protest the Election Commission’s 24-hour campaign ban on her during to the 2021 state polls are cases in point.
“They are sending central teams to Bengal. And if they can’t find anything, they are sending central investigative agencies. ED and CBI directors are acting like local BJP leaders based on the party’s instructions. The country cannot run like this,” the chief minister said.
“The United Nations and UNESCO are giving us certificates for being the model state and yet the Centre is sending teams to eyewash and satisfy BJP leaders. One must remember that the government is different from the party. When one is in the government, they have to take care of and bring confidence to all the people of the country,” she added.
Alleging that the “BJP government is working for Adani and Mehul”, Banerjee alleged, “The country is being run by only a few people. Banks have become penniless. They are not giving money for 100 days work but the rich people have collected a lot of funds. LIC and SBI have become zero.”
Incidentally, the Bengal chief minister is scheduled to meet with her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar on Thursday and former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy at her Kalighat residence a day later, on 24 March. Banerjee’s fresh liaison with regional leaders in the run-up to the 2024 general elections, which started with her meeting with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yaday in Kolkata last week, has left political observers keenly observant on what kind of opposition alliance she is able to stitch to take on the BJP, especially when she clearly also wants to distance herself from the Congress.