At Mega TMC Rally, Party Workers Pray for Left’s Revival in Bengal
As West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addressed tens of thousands of Trinamool Congress workers and supporters in Kolkata around noon on Sunday, 21 July, we caught up with the people who were braving the sweltering heat to listen to her.
From admitting there is rampant corruption at lower levels of the party to discussing how they wish the Left Front revives itself enough to arrest the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Trinamool workers from across the state opened up about the state of politics in Bengal today, the looming threat from the saffron brigade and Didi’s chances of re-election in 2021.
The rally was being held in commemoration of the 13 protesters who were killed in police firing on 21 July 1993 during a demonstration led by Mamata Banerjee, who was then a young Congress leader.
Looking Left-wards for Hope
Just recently, CPM offices in Birbhum that had been forcibly “captured” by the TMC after they came to power were returned to their rightful owners, with local Trinamool leaders admitting that it was a ploy to help the Left get back on its feet and hopefully stymie the BJP’s growth in Bengal.
When we asked Biswajeet Saha, a 28-year-old farmer and TMC worker from Birbhum, about it, he replied with a smile, “We should not have taken their offices by force. It was a mistake on our part and we are rectifying it now.” But we persist, “Why did the realisation come only now, several years after the misdeed? Surely it has something to do with the BJP’s rise.”
Saha replies, with an even more sheepish grin, “We are helping CPM to split the BJP’s votes.” Dibyendu Mondol, a 35-year-old farmer from Birbhum reaffirms, “The main objective is that the BJP vote share gets cut.”
Bibhas Debnath, a 38-year-old TMC worker from Bongaon in North 24 Parganas, argues, “Look, the TMC vote share went up in the 2019 polls, but almost the entire vote share of the Left went to the BJP. If the Left vote increases in 2021, BJP will definitely be defeated. If only Left can come up to around 20 percent (from 7.5 percent in 2019)...”
On being asked about the continuing political violence in Bengal, which was earlier between the Left and TMC and is now increasingly between the TMC and BJP, Biswajeet Saha replies cheekily, “CPM sheekhiye gheche maramari (CPM taught us to fight). We inherited a culture of political violence from them.” Dibyendu Mondol adds, “We are following what our elder brothers from the CPM have taught us.”
TMC’s Corruption & ‘Cut Money’ Crisis
“Cut money” is the term used in Bengal for the bribes taken by TMC workers and local leaders to get government-related work done. The phenomenon became so widespread that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has now openly admitted it and asked TMC leaders to return the “cut money” to the people they have taken it from. She has also assured a crackdown against corrupt TMC leaders who engage in the practice, but will it be enough to cleanse the TMC’s reputation on corruption?
Bablu Gayne, a 31-year-old TMC worker from Bhangar in South 24 Parganas cannot deny the charge, “Yes, TMC people have taken cut money. But Didi is acting against those with cut money.”
But is Mamata using “cut money” as a convenient excuse to act against TMC leaders who are set to join the BJP soon? TMC worker Nazrul Baidya is quick counter with the converse theory, “Only those who have been extremely corrupt are going to the BJP because Didi is acting against them.”
Mondol optimistically adds, “But given Didi’s crackdown, I don't think netas in future will have the guts to take cut money.”
The Hindu-Muslim Question
One of the core themes of the BJP’s criticism against the TMC is that it feels that Mamata’s government has been “appeasing” Muslims and according them preferential treatment and resource allocation. Do the TMC workers assembled in Kolkata for the mega rally find any resonance in the BJP’s claims?
Mallika Sahu, a 42-year-old Trinamool loyalist from Amta in Howrah, hesitantly admits, “In some places and in some instances, the TMC has made mistakes with regards to the Hindu-Muslim issue.” We ask her, “You mean the TMC government has been guilty of appeasing Muslims in some places?” She pauses, thinks for a while, and then chooses not to answer. “That’s all I want to say.”
Just a few minutes after that, as if on cue, the speaker on stage sings a few lines about unity. And ends with chants of “Allah” as well as a popular Hindu shloka. There is scattered applause when he does both.
Alauddin Mollah, a 35-year-old resident of Bhangar, argues against the BJP’s claims of appeasement. “Didi gives Rs 10,000 to every Durga Pujo committee. If she was working only for Muslims, would she do that?”
Sumita Pal from Howrah says, “Some people think Didi works more for Muslims, but that isn't true.” Dibyendu Mondol concurs, “Didi looks after both Hindus and Muslims, take care of our temples as well as masjids. But the BJP is taking Bengal on the wrong path.”
Twenty-one-year-old Tapas Mondol rattles of a list of things the Mamata administration has done for the Hindu community, “Kapil Muni’s ashram has had restoration work done, the condition of crematoriums have been improved, there’s been a skywalk built at the Dakshineswar temple, and so much more. This talk about Muslim appeasement is BJP propaganda.”
The ‘Jai Shri Ram’ Controversy
What about Mamata Banerjee losing her cool at those heckling her with chants of “Jai Shri Ram”?
The Call Against EVMs Continues
Forty-two-year-old Pronoti Dhara repeatedly claims, “EVM machines responsible for BJP’s victories in Bengal.” She’s not the only one casting doubts about EVMs. The senior leadership of the TMC is at it too.
Abhishek Banerjee, TMC MP from Diamond Harbour and Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, bellows on stage, “Gonotontro phiriye dao, machine noye ballot pherao. (Bring back democracy, by scrapping EVMs and returning to the ballot.)”
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