The Trinamul Congress on Saturday hit the streets across the state to demand the release of central funds to launch the party's two-day booth-level protests announced by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on November 23 at Calcutta's Netaji Indoor Stadium.
"Our party's chairperson Mamata Banerjee instructed the party's rank and file to organise protests at every booth across the state against deprivation politics by the Narendra Modi government that held up dues from December 2021. Today (Saturday) our workers are protesting in around half of the 80,000 booths. Those who could not organise a protest today will hit the streets tomorrow (Sunday)," said a senior Trinamul leader.
Party leaders held protest rallies, street corners and small meetings with booth-level leaders in districts including Birbhum, Purulia, Bankura and Hooghly in south Bengal and Cooch Behar, Malda, North and South Dinajpur in north Bengal.
Mamata announced the two-day protest on November 23, a week before Union home minister Amit Shah's rally at Esplanade where he reeled out numbers in a bid to establish that the Modi government did not deprive Bengal but rather allotted more funds to the state than what the Trinamul-backed UPA government had done.
Shah came to Bengal armed with numbers to counter Trinamul's narrative that the BJP had been depriving the state because of its vindictive attitude towards the state's ruling party.
A Trinamul leader said Shah's statements had proved that the saffron camp did find it tough to defend the narrative of deprivation drummed up by Trinamul ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Trinamul had pitched the deprivation narrative against the BJP from October this year when the party's national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee went to Delhi with over 3,000 people, most of whose wages were due under the MGNREGA. Abhishek also sat on a dharna in front of Raj Bhavan in Calcutta to press for central dues from October 5, but called it off after a few days on Mamata's advice when governor C.V. Ananda Bose promised to mediate.
"Abhishek then announced that the party would again hit the streets in Delhi on the issue led by Mamata Banerjee. Though the Delhi programme is yet to be final, Didi (Mamata) asked us to flag the issue among rural people. The two-day protest now is a part of that effort," said a source Trinamul.
"We got a good response during the protest rallies at the booth level. People are participating in good numbers," said Soumen Belthoria, Trinamul district chief of Purulia.
Trinamul leaders said their protest over the Centre's deprivation got a boost as they clubbed it with "tribal humiliation by the BJP" after the saffron camp "sanitised" the base of B.R. Ambedkar's statue on the Assembly premises. Around 30 BJP MLAs on Friday washed the base of the statue with Ganga water "to purify" the area where Trinamul MLAs headed by Mamata sat on a demonstration for three days. Trinamul claimed the BJP did so as several Trinamul tribal MLAs sat there.
BJP leaders said they were not worried. "Amit Shahji made it clear that the Modi government did not deprive Bengal and we will tell this to people.... They understand Trinamul's policy of corruption and won't buy its narrative," said a state BJP leader.