TMC workers look to Mamata to counter an aggressive BJP

Kolkata, July 20 (IANS) Holding its first martyrs' day rally, after the Lok Sabha setbacks, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is leaving no stone unturned to ensure a mega show on Sunday when its chief Mamata Banerjee is expected to detail a roadmap to TMC workers for combating an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ever since the Lok Sabha polls saw the TMC's stock dwindle to 22 from 34 in 2014, there has been an exodus from its ranks to the BJP. Several district and panchayat level leaders as well as councillors and legislators are taking the exit route.

An aggressive BJP has been protesting against the TMC leaders on the issue of cut-money or bribes, giving fresh headache to Banerjee.

Daily scenes on television channels of TMC leaders confessing to have taken cut-money from the people for providing government welfare schemes and services have seemingly dented the image of the TMC, which has been in power in the state since May, 2011.

It's an irony of sorts that it was Banerjee who had brought the cut-money issue into focus by openly asking TMC leaders to return bribes taken by them from the beneficiaries of government schemes and welfare projects.

Banerjee had hoped to cleanse the party and refurbish its public image through such move, but the events that unfolded -- of daily gherao of TMC functionaries' residences, and statewide protests -- could be an indication of the script going awry.

With the BJP, riding the success of grabbing 18 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal, going aggressive to discredit the TMC government, all eyes would be on Banerjee on Sunday as she addresses the rally at Dharamtalla.

The Centre has already sent a series of advisories to the Banerjee government on issues, like law and order and health, while the central agencies, like Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation, have stepped up their probe into many ponzi scams as also the Narada sting, in which a number of TMC leaders are said to be involved.

The TMC ranks are looking at their leader to spell out ways to prevail over the BJP, and announce programmes to regain its lost votes less than two years before the May 2021 Assembly polls.

Banerjee, who visited the rally site during the day, however, said the party was not thinking at all of the 2021 polls. "2021 is still two years away. We now have so much work to do. We are not at all thinking of elections. We will start thinking about it, three months prior to it," she said.

Banerjee stressed the top issue would be the demand for dumping EVMs and bringing back the ballot papers in polls. The Sonbhadra killings in Uttar Pradesh is also likely to figure prominently in Banerjee's speech.

On Saturday, the TMC supremo smelled a BJP hand in about 30 per cent of the train services not being run on Sunday. "This is not fair. All parties have the right to conduct their programmes".

Asked whether she had approached the railway ministry for hiring special trains for the rally, Banerjee claimed her party didn't have the financial strength to afford such things.

However, she mentioned how she had given up to 75 per cent concessions to political parties for holding their programmes during her stints as railway minister. "When I was the rallway minister, all political parties used to come to me. I gave up to 75 per cent concession. Now only the BJP (gets it). I don't know they can get the free train also," she said.

--IANS

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