Bengal Polls: Mamata hails farmers’ struggle at Delhi borders, says, BJP selling off country’s public assets
Mamata said that BJP regime in Delhi is selling off all country’s public assets, and said that the BJP promise of a ‘double engine’ is like a bird which tries to fly high only to fall flat on earth
Oozing confidence, totally sure of herself, as calm and playful as she could be, clapping with the ‘revolutionary and IPTA’ songs sung by Rajya Sabha MP, Dola Sen in her sonorous voice, communicating with gestures from the stage with journalists and the people, throwing a water bottle to a thirsty TV journalist who just arrived amidst the heat and humidity, sharing her pack of tissues with women journalists, asking for tea and biscuits for them, connecting with the crowd even much before her speech began, and as informal, sarcastic and feisty as she could be, the feisty fighter of yesteryears was back, and the crowd just adored her.
She claims she walks 25 kilometers per day when she is on the road campaigning, or connecting to the people, or in protest movements. Now, in a wheel chair in her white sari and one hawai chappal in one foot, the other in a plaster, she seems tireless even after three rallies in this heat. She says once the plaster is over she will be back on the streets, walking miles, connecting, reaching out to the people. When the crowd became restive, she calmed them down cheerfully, “Be cool. Thanda Thanda cool cool. Trinamool.”
Most crucially, she said that she and Trinamool Congress will not give in one inch when it comes to free and fair elections. Fudging or manipulation of votes or EVM machines will just not be allowed.
"People will take all the trouble to come and vote for Trinamool, and you will change it to BJP! That will just not be allowed."
Indeed, even while she made a direct connect with the rural women in the audience, who adore her intensely and unabashedly, she asked all the ‘mothers and daughters’ of Nandigram and Bengal to come out and take on the goons with their kitchen utensils – haata, khunti, belan, preferably hot – if they try to disrupt or subvert the poll process. “A red hot haata for the goons. It will be like face powder for them,” she said.
“We stand for peace and calm. But if they want to manipulate the polls, we will take them on. We will simply not allow any fudging whatsoever. All the mothers and sisters should cook food and come out in the morning to help our workers in restoring our faith in free and fair elections. Mothers and sisters, stay back till late in the night if need be, till the ballot boxes are finally sealed. Go home and cook food only after the ballot boxes are sealed. Then we will see who wins the elections. We will not give them one inch of space. We will take them on, in every inch,” she said, clearly giving a message that manipulation of votes or EVMs will just not be allowed in the booths or after polling by her party workers.
Clearly, she was addressing the widespread fear and speculation that EVMs can be manipulated in particular booths and hence the final outcome can go in favour of one particular party. She said that her party will not allow a situation that people’s right to free and fair elections is violated.
Indeed, even while she campaigns in other constituencies, Mamata will stay back in Nandigram till the last vote is polled, she announced. Truly, the fight is on, and she is ready. Her confident body language and strong political narrative is that of a mass leader who will lead her party to a significant victory in Bengal, while she is herself sure of winning by a huge margin in Nandigram.
“Didi will win by more than one lakh votes and more,” ordinary people in Nandigram who support her are clear and categorical, especially women.
She openly took a dig at Amit Shah. She said that he claims that the BJP will win 26 out of the 30 assembly seats where polling happened in the first phase on March 27. “Why not 30 out of 30?” she asked sarcastically. “Did you capture the booth? Or did you yourself go and vote out there? Or have you installed BJP's lotus on the voting machine?"
This was vintage Mamata Banerjee, the feisty mass leader, the fiery street fighter, the woman who took on the might of the CPM and its extra-constitutional structures in West Bengal and broke their 34-year old uninterrupted and unilateral rule, while leading the land struggles in Singur and Nandigram with the catchy and emotional slogan of ‘Ma, Maati, Manush’.
Predictably, the slogan has come back again in her campaign, deeply stirring the political unconscious, bringing back simmering memories from the 2007 struggle, and the oral traditions of the land movement. As did the stories and anecdotes of the time, the gory tales of police firing, killings of protesters and ordinary citizens by the Hamad and the police, and the bitter narratives of back-stabbing and betrayals.
Without naming Suvendu Adhikari, she called him a “gaddaar, vishwasghati and Mir Jaffer”. She blamed herself for giving him so much space and trusting him. She said that she knew about his activities, but she ignored it. “It was my fault,” she said. “He would wrap his face in a cloth and go to Guwahati first, from there he would go to Delhi. He did not go from Kolkata directly. I knew it. It was my fault.”
“Now we know that he was hobnobbing with the BJP in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, in 2019, in 2020. Thankfully he had to leave in 2021. Their dirty plan was to win on our party ticket, then hijack 40 MLAs to the BJP after the polls. That plan was effectively foiled,” she said. “Gaddaar, Mirjaffer. I will never forgive the vishwasghatis.”
The crowd loved it. Especially the women thronging the pandal in the front rows, totally committed supporters and ardent admirers of Didi, mostly from the schedule caste and Muslim communities, who live in this village in Nandigram block one. “Hold on. We will wait. They have stopped our people on the way. They can’t get people for their own road shows and rallies, so they stop our people from attending our rallies. Anyway, their road show today was a flop because they got people from outside. And it was full of security forces. My car was stopped too. Almost 100 buses of security forces, I counted the buses myself on the narrow road. Let the people come. Dola has gone to get them on a bike. She is a Rajya Sabha MP. She will get them here. Let us wait. Thanda thanda cool cool. Trinamool,” he said.
This reporter spoke to several people who had joined the road show led by Amit Shah. Most women were wearing identical saffron saris and the men had saffron kurtas and t-shirts. They agreed that the saris and kurtas were provided by the party. Most of them indeed were not voters of Nandigram. They had arrived from nearby areas like Contai and Chandipur,, and also from Purulia and Bankura. The buses parked in a row in the outskirts of Nandigram which took them back to their villages after the road show was evidence.
Indeed, Mamata Banerjee’s last rally here was as much a public meeting for the voters of Nandigram, the last of the campaign as Section 144 was imposed after 6.30 pm, as it was a strategic speech made for the whole of Bengal with open and nuanced political and emotional messages, repeated again and again, and very effectively. It carried the essence and spirit of a protest movement in motion, as if it is integral to a mass struggle against an enemy and an establishment. It also carried the assurance and power of a mass leader who has been a chief minister for two terms, and who is referred by her party leaders in their speeches as the next chief minister of West Bengal. From a first person testimony of the attack and the injuries on her leg and her body, the past attacks on her including a bullet shot at her car in Garden Reach area in Kolkata, which a Muslim boy, Akhtar, took on his hand to protect her, to the promises she has kept and the promises she is making now, it was a text loaded with messages. Shown live on TV and social media, she touched a chord with the audience, showcased her confidence, and raked up every issue that is rocking the polls including the fear of fudging the votes, manipulation of the results and the EVM machines.
The expansive speech was loaded with hidden and expressed signals. She ended it, heard in pin-drop silence and interspersed with loud applause and clapping, with a long spell of slogans, old slogans of the Nandigram struggle, new slogans for famers and women, new slogans in support of secularism, as if it is an anti-establishment mass movement, and not an election rally. Her slogans found massive response from the women and girls, their hands up, while others who joined with “shankh’ and ‘ullook dhoni’, the auspicious sounds of prayer, happiness, festivity and worship, which women share collectively, alone and in chorus, in Bengal.
As evening descended on a vast agricultural field in a village in Nandigram, on March 30, Mamata Banerjee declared war on the BJP, took on her enemies in a frontal battle, defended the secular and pluralist ethos of Bengal and its cultural history, from Rabindranath Tagore to Mahasweta Devi and Kabir Suman, said she will not allow Bengal to be taken over by goons with their “rotten flags”, resurrected the symbolism of Ma, Maati, Manush, reminded the people of the bloody attacks on her during the CPM rule, defended land struggles in Singur, Nandigram, the Singhu border, hailed the farmers’ struggle at the borders of Delhi, declared that the BJP regime in Delhi is selling off all the country’s public assets, and said that the BJP promise of a ‘double engine’ is like a bird which tries to fly high only to fall flat on earth.
“Today, I went to a temple. The priest asked me, what is your gotra? I said my gotra is Ma, Maati, Manush,” she said, asserting that she believes in humanity and humanism, that is the foremost principle in her life. “You never know how a person can help you in life. It does not depend on religion. I respect all religions. I don’t do bhed bhav (discrimination) based on religion or identity. I believe in all gods, I do chandi path every morning, but I also respect the Gurudwara, Allah, Jesus.”
Taking a sharp dig at the BJP slogan of Jai Shri Ram which seems to have received no response in Bengal and does not seem to gel with its cultural consciousness, she said: “They are shouting Jai Shri Ram. Why not Jai Siya Ram? Where is Sita? Ram worshipped Durga. Where is Durga in their scheme of things? Where is Sita? They are indeed anti-women.”
(This article was first published on Sabrang. Views are personal)