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Mamata tries to revitalise Trinamul, pits black money against ‘cut money’

'I want Trinamul to turn itself around and become a model political outfit,' she said

By Devadeep Purohit in Calcutta

  • Published 22.07.19, 2:43 AM
  • Updated 22.07.19, 7:56 AM
Mamata Banerjee at the Martyrs’ Day rally in Calcutta on Sunday.
Mamata Banerjee at the Martyrs’ Day rally in Calcutta on Sunday. Picture by Gautam Bose

Mamata Banerjee said on Sunday that the Trinamul Congress would turn itself around and become a model political force, implying the need for revitalisation and signalling a resolve to reconnect with the masses.

“I want Trinamul to turn itself around and become a model political outfit,” Mamata said midway through her annual Martyrs’ Day speech, delivered at a time a perception has been gathering that the Lok Sabha results have transformed the BJP into a formidable force in Bengal.

“Politics can’t be done sitting at home. You have to hit the streets, which will show you the path,” Mamata told her supporters, before announcing she would start visiting the districts soon.

The objective of the message appeared to be to energise the party workers and prepare them for the next rounds of the battle — the civic elections next year and the Assembly polls the year after.

Every year, Mamata uses the July 21 rally — which commemorates the 13 Youth Congress supporters killed in police firing in 1993 — to send political messages and set targets for her party.

Last year, she had set the party the target of winning all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, but the poll results dealt a heavy blow to Trinamul, which could bag only 22 seats.

With 18 Lok Sabha seats and leads in over 120 of the 294 Assembly segments in the state, the BJP emerged as the main Opposition and its leaders have begun eyeing the seat of power in Bengal.

Mamata sought to lift the morale of the party workers who are reeling under the Lok Sabha poll outcome, a slew of defections and the clamour for the refund of “cut money”.

“They have got only 18 seats, not 42. They didn’t even get the majority,” Mamata said, trying to drive home the point that the battle for Bengal was far from over.

Her 66-minute address was longer than her usual 45 minutes but she requested the audience to hear her out. “It’s very hot today. It’s 12.45 now; I will leave you by 1.45. Don’t go before I tell you a few things,” the chief minister told the crowd before delivering her first major public address after the election results were declared on May 23.

Mamata went on to tick all the boxes that a political leader aiming for a turnaround would.

Crowd count: Mamata started by seeking to dispel the notion that the turnout was lower than previous years’. “I was coming by Red Road and saw 2 to 3 lakh people there who couldn’t enter this venue. It was like a meeting being held at the Brigade,” Mamata said.

Later, Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said: “It (the Trinamul rally) was a mega flop show. The turnout was dismally low in comparison to previous years. The turnout and the tone of the chief minister’s address suggest theirs is a lost cause.”

General election: The poll outcome — through the abuse and misuse of the electronic voting machines (EVMs), CRPF and the Election Commission — in Bengal meant very little, she said.

“They bagged a few seats but didn’t get a majority,” she said, trying to reassure her supporters that Trinamul was firmly in control in the state. “What fight did the BJP put up? Who are they? No one in Bengal knows them. Haven’t even heard their names…. Except that RSS goons are doing the dirty work through schools,” she said.

Ballots: She aired her doubts about the EVMs and demanded a return to paper ballots.

“The Lok Sabha election in 2019 is a mystery, not history. We don’t want EVMs. We want the ballot box to be brought back,” she said, adding that civic and other elections in Bengal would be held through paper ballots.

Alone: She said Trinamul could take on the BJP on its own. “I want to tell the Congress and the CPM that we don’t need your support. You fight your battle with the BJP; we’ll fight ours,” she said, targeting suggestions she was hoping for a grand alliance against the BJP.

Strife: Mamata tried to explain the pitfalls of voting for the BJP, using the continuing strife in Bhatpara to elaborate. “What’s happening in Bhatpara? Schools are closed for two months. We have been in power for eight years: has anything like this happened?” she asked.

Black money: Mamata created a narrative to counter the clamour for the refund of “cut money” and urged her supporters to confront the BJP on black money.

“We are telling the BJP, ‘First return the black money you used in the elections. Where did you get the money for a five-star party office, for the huge campaign arrangements and transport? Return the black money and cut money — all that you have taken till now — and used for winning elections’,” she said.

Power grab: Mamata reminded her audience that the BJP was taking control of the Assemblies in multiple states using unfair means. “What’s the desperation behind the attempts to pull down governments in Karnataka, Goa, Rajasthan and MP?” she asked.

Horse-trading: Defections in favour of the BJP also featured in her address as she narrated the story of an MLA who was allegedly offered Rs 2 crore and a petrol pump agency to switch sides.

“Money will come and go, the people will stay,” she said before criticising the BJP’s alleged attempts at horse-trading.

Recipe: Finally, she rolled out the recipe for a turnaround by asking Trinamul functionaries to reach out to people and strengthen the booth-level organisation.

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