The Trinamul Congress on Monday staged a dharna at Rajghat in New Delhi to protest against the alleged step-motherly treatment towards Bengal by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
It was the first such programme at the national capital led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Trinamul national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
The party’s MPs, ministers and other senior leaders carried out the sit-in demonstration as part of its multi-pronged agitation programme in Delhi over its core demand of the release of funds due to the state by the BJP-led Centre. Trinamul claims Bengal has central dues amounting to over Rs 1.15 lakh crore, of which around Rs 15,000 crore is on account of the 100-day employment guarantee scheme and the rural housing alone.
“For the past two years, Bengal has been systematically deprived of its rights…. The central government’s arrogance and stubbornness to deprive the people of Bengal of their dues cost people their lives,” Abhishek said in a brief media conference at Rajghat after the dharna.
The media interaction had to be cut short on account of police intervention which Trinamul called a “condemnable, planned, deliberate disruption of peace”.
Abhishek later alleged that 50,000 police personnel had been unleashed on less than 500 Trinamul leaders by the “scared” saffron camp.
“The MGNREGA is named after Mahatma Gandhi, who fought for the nation’s Independence. We wanted to start our fight by paying floral tributes to the leader…. We started our peaceful sit-in agitation. But (central forces) and Delhi police kept assaulting our people, including women,” Abhishek added. “Mahatma Gandhi is the pride of the nation and no single group can have ownership over his legacy.”
Union rural development minister Giriraj Singh and a few other central leaders like Anurag Thakur and the saffron camp in Bengal came out with stern responses throughout the day to discredit Abhishek’s claims and the legitimacy of the Trinamul-led protests.
‘Change Modi’ call
This was Trinamul’s biggest show in the national capital, but Abhishek — not his aunt — led it and directly attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the theme of the fledgling INDIA grouping.
In a bellicose statement asserting the party’s right to seek justice for the deprived masses of Bengal, the Diamond Harbour MP accused the saffron regime of having taken the people of the state for granted and criticised their “anti-Bengal” attitude.
“If there is corruption, prove it. Why do you block the grants? Just because Bengal people did not vote for the BJP, they should not suffer,” said Abhishek.
“This is your home ground and your referee, yet the Trinamul Congress issues this challenge to you…. The Prime Minister (Modi) who enjoys changing everything — from the Parliament to currency notes to names of places and history — will now be changed by the people,” he added.
“The time has come to change the Prime Minister, in a democratic manner.”
Abhishek warned the saffron ecosystem against ill-treatment to the thousands of MGNREGS job cardholders from Bengal — whom his party bussed into Delhi — who would be taken to Jantar Mantar, one of the most prominent seats of protest in Delhi, on Tuesday.
The day before the programme, Abhishek tried to create his narrative around Bengal’s deprivation while Modi was wasting resources to satisfy his own ego.
“The Prime Minister’s house was built with Rs 20,000 crore, but common people were deprived of Rs 1.5 lakh for their homes…. He remains silent on Manipur, the forces under their command do nothing to restore peace in Manipur, but they are deployed to assault us during our peaceful protests,” he said referring to the skirmishes between protestors and the Delhi police at Rajghat.
“We will endure the assaults, if they thrash Trinamul leaders. But if common people are attacked, I will respond in the only language that the BJP understands,” he added.
The Jantar Mantar programme would begin at 1pm, after which a delegation will meet junior Union rural development minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti at Krishi Bhavan from 6.30pm.
Abhishek, who met senior Trinamul leaders in closed-door meetings on Sunday and Monday, told them that he was unwilling to let this movement fizzle out right away, especially since the saffron regime’s “fear” of the protest in the national capital was palpable.
He reportedly told his colleagues that the decision on the next steps would be taken after the Krishi Bhavan meeting. Sources in the party have said he wants agitation programmes in Delhi till Divali if need be.
“Let us first see how the meeting goes. If the Centre remains unwilling to accede to our demands for the people, we will announce further programmes,” said Abhishek, in response to a question from journalists after a closed-door meeting at the Delhi residence of MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay.
A political observer said that with the Delhi show, Abhishek was able to strengthen the foundations of building a vast part of the Trinamul campaign for 2024 in Bengal over the issue of alleged deprivation of the masses by the BJP-led Centre.
The general election in Bengal is likely to be fought over the BJP-led chief poll plank of alleged corruption in the Trinamul regime, while Mamata would spearhead a campaign narrative of Delhi’s “step-motherly attitude” towards the state.
“Given how crucial the electoral support is of the vast sections of the deprived people that depend on MGNREGS, Awas Yojana, and other such schemes, this narrative could go a long way in making a major difference in the outcome next year,” said a Trinamul MP.
“The BJP is very well aware of this, which is why it is going out of its way to counter every claim being made by us here,” he added. “Abhishek has delivered a spectacular performance in the lead, in the unfortunate absence of Didi (Mamata). He is now another nationally known face of our party, after her.”
While Trinamul was bullish about deriving political dividends, some of its leaders suffered losses on Day One of the protest. MPs Satabdi Roy and Santanu Sen claimed to have lost their cellphones in the scuffle between the gathering and the cops, ministers Aroop Biswas and Sujit Bose lost their shoes. Their cabinet colleague Ghulam Rabbani lost his car for a while.