The Indian Express | 5 months ago | 05-01-2023 | 05:40 pm
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday claimed that the Vande Bharat Express was pelted with stones in neighbouring Bihar, and not her state.She said legal action will be taken against those media outlets that spread “fake news” that the incidents took place in West Bengal, bringing a bad name to the state.“Vande Bharat was pelted with stones in Bihar and not in West Bengal. We will take legal action against those media outlets that telecast fake news that the incident took place in West Bengal and brought a bad name to our state,” Banerjee told reporters before leaving Sagar Island.“Vande Bharat is nothing special. It is just an old train refurbished with a new engine,” he said.Banerjee concluded her two-day visit to the island to oversee the preparations for the Gangasagar Mela that begins on January 8.The Howrah-New Jalpaiguri Vande Bharat Express was on Tuesday pelted with stones for the second time, days after it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Railway authorities on Thursday claimed they have identified those who threw stones at the train.The incident sparked a slugfest between the BJP and Trinamool Congress.
Standing in front of her mud house in Khemasuli village in West Bengal’s Paschim Medinipur district, 26-year-old Madhuri Mahato points to a scrawl on its outer wall alongside a picture of a girl with a bow and arrow, which read: “Party r Prachar Likhte Dibak Nai (We will not allow graffiti by any party).” A similar line is written across the mud wall of her neighbour’s home: “Hamder Kath Hamder Thak, Voter Prachar Bandho Thak (Let our wall be ours, let the campaign for votes stop).”In several villages in Paschim Medinipur and neighbouring Jhargram district, such messages have recently come up on the houses of Kudmis (Mahatos), forbidding political parties from using their walls for their campaigns. Not only this, several Kudmi leaders and workers of both the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Opposition parties such as the BJP, CPI(M) and Congress, including panchayat members, have started quitting their parties or posts to join the community’s agitation demanding the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status and inclusion of their Kudmali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.This strategy of the Kudmi community is designed to put pressure on the political parties ahead of the panchayat elections, which are expected to be held in the coming months, and the Lok Sabha polls slated for next year.The Kudmi community, which is currently listed in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, plays a significant role in every election in the tribal-dominated Junglemahal districts of Paschim Medinipur, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia. In the 2018 panchayat elections, the BJP had captured power in 100 panchayats and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections won five out of the six parliamentary seats in the region dominated by Kudmis and tribals. But the BJP suffered a setback in the 2021 Assembly polls with the party winning only 16 of the 40 seats with the TMC establishing its upper hand in the region.The current escalation in Kudmis’ movement comes after months of their protests failed to yield any concession from either the BJP-led Centre or the Mamata Banerjee-led state government.In September last year, Kudmis staged a railway blockade at the Kustaur and Khemasuli stations in Purulia and Paschim Medinipur districts over their demand but lifted it after five days.They were back to squatting on the rail tracks at Kustaur and Khemsauli in April this year, even as they also partially blocked the national highway connecting Kolkata and Mumbai. Their protest lasted five days, ending again without any concrete government assurance about their demand.This time, however, the TMC government took note of the eruption of the Kudmi stir and on May 17 three representatives of the community met Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the state secretariat Nabanna in Howrah. At the meeting, the CM told the Kudmi leaders that her government would draft a proposal to grant ST status to the community and send it to the Centre. According to a senior official present at the meeting, it was also decided that a Kudmi Development Board would be set up for the welfare of the community.Nine days later, the apparent progress made at the meeting evaporated as the convoy of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, the CM’s nephew, was pelted with stones after it left Jhargram town following a roadshow. State minister Birbaha Hansda was injured in the attack. Since then, 10 Kudmi protesters have been arrested, including their leader Rajesh Mahato.The Kudmi community has alleged that it is a conspiracy to derail their movement and have demanded a CBI inquiry into the incident. But they are refusing to back down. “Most of the houses in my village have such writings on their walls. We will not allow any political activity in our village. Our walls cannot be used for political graffiti or campaigns, whichever party it may be,” says Madhuri.Not far from Madhuri’s home lives Sandip Mahato, the 33-year-old resident of Kantasol village, who was once a TMC booth president. “I was with TMC for many years, even during the Left rule. But I left the party on April 11. My samaj comes first. I am part of the agitation now. Neither the TMC nor any other party did anything for my samaj. This is our fight for Jati Satta (community identity),” says Sandip.Standing beside him at a sweet shop is Badal Chandra Mahato, 35, who was earlier the panchayat pradhan and the BJP’s area chairman. “I too left the BJP on April 11,” he says. Like them, Khodumeer village resident Pabitra Kumar Mahato, 47, who was earlier with the CPI(M), and former Congress worker Santanu Mahato, 47, have also given up their party affiliations to join the community’s agitation.“Samaj andolan (community movement) is going on. How can I turn my back on it? ST reservation is our right,” says Pabitra. Santanu says he was part of the rail blockade in Khemsauli. “When my children grow up they will ask me what I did for them. What will I say? Therefore, I am part of the movement,” he says.Kudmis’ mega Jhargram rallyWith no intention of backing down, Kudmis are now preparing to hold a mega rally in Jhargram on June 6 and are mobilising their community members in villages for their campaign. “It will not be easy for the state government, TMC or any other party to ignore us. On June 6, our leaders will show us the roadmap for attaining ST status,” says Adivasi Kudmi Samaj’s Paschim Medinipur district president Kamalesh Mahato.As he speaks with The Indian Express, standing by the road near Saotaldihi village in Jhargram’s Lodhasuli area, hundreds of Kudmis carrying the community’s traditional yellow flags and wearing yellow scarves are engaged in their outreach to villagers, with more than 100 motorbikes and two cars with loudspeakers being deployed for their campaign.Paschim Banga Kudmi Samaj leader Sandip Mahato, 47, says the community has adopted a “Ghagor Ghera (encircle from all sides)” strategy of confronting senior political leaders visiting the Junglemahal belts.Kudmis claim that during the British colonial rule they were considered a primitive tribe like Mundas, Oraons, and Santhals. But when the ST list was prepared after 1950, they lost out on the ST status and put in the OBC category.But the Kudmi agitation and the attack on Abhishek’s convoy have not gone down well with tribal groups and seem to have resulted in social fissures in the region. The United Adivasi Forum, a platform of 18 tribal organisations, has called a bandh on June 8. The tribal group Bharat Jakat Majhi Pargana Mahal’s leader Dilip Mandi says, “We are against ST status for Kudmis since they have been an empowered community from before Independence. They have land, education and money. They have always been associated with upper-caste people. Meanwhile, Santhali and Adivasi communities are extremely backward. If Kudmis get ST status, they will grab all the reservation benefits and the Adivasi communities will be further deprived.”Kamalesh Mahato denies Kudmis’ involvement in the attack on Abhishek’s convoy, pointing out that they have called for a CBI probe into the incident. Asked about the tribals’ opposition to his community’s demand, he says, “We have lived side by side for hundreds of years. It is also a part of a conspiracy to provoke them against us. Some of their leaders who live in cities are provoking the tribals and trying to create division and tension between us.”
Days after West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee extended an olive branch to the Congress while offering her support to the party in its strongholds for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the fraught relationship between the two parties got more strained after the Congress’s lone Bengal MLA Bayron Biswas crossed over to the TMC.On Tuesday, the Congress slammed the TMC, saying such “poaching” was not designed to strengthen Opposition unity and only served the BJP’s objectives.Three months after wresting the Muslim-dominated Sagardighi Assembly seat in Murshidabad in a bypoll from the TMC, the Congess MLA switched to the ruling party on Monday. Bayron’s defection comes at a time when efforts are on to forge Opposition unity to take on the BJP in the 2024 polls.In February, the TMC candidate’s defeat in Sagardighi had enraged Mamata, who had then said: “In 2024, we will see an alliance between the Trinamool and the people. We will not go with any of the other political parties. We will fight alone with people’s support. Those who want to defeat the BJP, I believe they will vote for us. The ones voting for CPI(M) and Congress are actually voting for BJP.”The TMC appeared to soften its stance towards the Congress after Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as a Lok Sabha MP following his conviction and sentencing over his 2019 Modi surname remark.In Bengal, the relations between the two parties have been strained for a long time. In the 2016 and 2021 Assembly elections, the Congress aligned with the CPM-led Left Front to take on the TMC, which swept both the polls.Recently, Bihar CM and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar and Deputy CM and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav visited Mamata in Kolkata, following which both Kumar and Mamata asserted that all anti-BJP forces should work together for Opposition unity for the 2024 elections. Many Opposition parties are going to have their first joint conclave in this regard in Patna on June 12.However, after Bayron joined the TMC in his presence, senior party leader and Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee said, “Our chairperson Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly stated that she has no problem supporting the Congress in order to defeat the BJP. However, Bengal PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury is claiming that he will fight the Trinamool. This implies that he has no intention of defeating the BJP.”Abhishek said, “We don’t mind supporting Congress, but that doesn’t mean that in places where the TMC is strong, Congress would fight us to strengthen BJP. If Congress weakens Trinamool, the only party to gain will be BJP. We are ready to support the Congress in places where they are strong, but they should do the same thing in places where TMC remains the principal force to take on the BJP.”He also claimed, “Congress and Adhir expects the Opposition to support them, but in return, they don’t want to extend the same support to the other Opposition parties. If Adhir wants to break TMC, who benefits? Not Congress or CPM, but BJP. If I had to break the Congress, Bayron would have joined us back in Murshidabad itself. If we decide to break the Congress, 4 MPs (from other states) would join TMC at a moment’s notice. However, we don’t want to do the politics of breaking political parties, we want to defeat the BJP.”Slamming the TMC after Bayron’s switchover, Adhir said, “Our fight against TMC and BJP will continue.”CPM leader Tanmay Bhattacharya said, “Bayron Biswas won because people wanted to defeat TMC and BJP and that situation has not changed. If vote is again held in Sagardighi, then TMC and BJP will again be defeated.”Launching a scathing attack on the TMC, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of communications, Jairam Ramesh, said, “Three months after he was elected as a Congress MLA in a historic victory Bayron Biswas has been lured away by the TMC in West Bengal. This is a complete betrayal of the mandate of the people of the Sagardighi Assembly constituency.”Ramesh also said, “Such poaching which has happened earlier in Goa, Meghalaya, Tripura and other states is not designed to strengthen Opposition unity and only serves the BJP’s objectives.”On her part, Mamata, during a press conference at the state secretariat Nabanna Tuesday, declined to comment on Bayron’s move. “Ask our local party. I do not know. I saw it on news,” she claimed.Mamata also charged, “Left, Congress and BJP never stop doing wrong things. They are the same and they will remain together. Let them remain together. They are three flowers of the same garland. They never think good things. So, I have no time for them.”On Ramesh’s allegation that the TMC had tried to hurt the Congress in other states too, Mamata said, “I think we are all together at the national level. At the state level, all parties should understand they have their own obligations. We have contested only Meghalaya and Goa. But when Congress contested Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal, Gujarat, Chhattishgarh, we never disrupted. Instead of disrupting, we supported them. That is why I don’t have any comments (about Ramesh’s remarks). Anybody can say anything.”The TMC chief also said, “If we don’t fight in other states, how will we become a national party. It is not for winning election, it is for vote percentage also so that we become a national party.”On the June 12 Opposition meeting, Mamata said, “It is happening, I told Nitishji to call a meeting in Patna. He asked me day before yesterday and I confirmed (my participation in the meeting).”Hitting back at Ramesh, TMC leader Derek O’Brien tweeted: “Despite Mamata Banerjee’s support Congress vows to fight Mamata Banerjee in Bengal” Statement from Congress two weeks ago. Congress breaches trust on Opposition unity and then expects bouquets of roses! And about strengthening BJP? Grow up please.”
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday arrested Sujoy Krishna Bhadra, a Kolkata-based businessman and a close associate of Trinamool Congress second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee, after questioning him for nearly 12 hours in connection with the school jobs scam in West Bengal.The ED officials said Bhadra was arrested as he was not cooperating with the investigators and dodged their questions. The agency claimed to have found his links with three companies and suspected that crores of rupees were being laundered through these entities. Also, the ED officials had recovered documents during raids at his house earlier.Bhadra’s lawyer Najmul Alam Sarkar said, “They (ED officials) are not communicating with us. I kept waiting for long outside the agency’s office but I wasn’t allowed in.”Earlier, the agency had asked Bhadra to appear in person at its office in CGO Complex in Salt Lake where he reached at 11am on Tuesday. This was the first time he appeared before the ED investigators even as he was summoned for questioning earlier also.The CBI has also summoned him twice.On May 20, the ED agency carried out a search in his flat and office in Behala. Earlier, the CBI had searched his flat on May 4. The businessman appeared before the CBI once in March but skipped the agency’s second summons and instead sent his lawyer.The businessman was first named in the recruitment scam by Tapas Mondal, one of the arrested agents allegedly involved in the scam.According to sources, Abhishek Banerjee’s mother is a director in a company run in the name of Bhadra who claims to be an employee in Banerjee’s office.It is alleged that the TMC leader is a partner in the company, Leaps & Bounds Private Limited, which is into manufacturing of packaged mineral drinking water.Also, the ED has written to state departments in the corruption probe seeking some details. The letters have been sent to the departments of Public Works, and Urban Development, and the Municipal Service Commission. The agency has enquired about the process under which recruitments have been made in the last eight years. The ED also wanted to know as how many people have been employed in these years.Bhadra, also known as Kalighat er Kaku (uncle from Kalighat) had earlier alleged that he was a victim of a politically motivated investigation.Interestingly, he had contested the Bhowanipore by-election in 2011 as an independent candidate against TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee (Chief Minister) and polled 809 votes.Time is ticking, says BJP; TMC hits backTaking a dig at the TMC leadership following Bhadra’s arrest, Leader of Opposition in Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari tweeted, “The long arm of law is finally reaching towards the masterminds & the biggest beneficiaries. No one will be spared. The high and mighty will go to jail. Time is ticking.”He also shared pictures claiming Bhadra’s links with Abhishek Banerjee.Countering his claims, TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “Suvendu Adhikari is facing an FIR in the Narada case that is being probed by a central agency. Clearly, Bayron Biswas’ joining the TMC didn’t go down well with the BJP and the Congress. It was a planned effort to uplift the morale of their (BJP’s) workers. If he (Bhadra) has been arrested for something wrong, the party won’t stand by him. It is a politically motivated move.”Lok Sabha MP and West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, ” This is so funny that they are finding a link between Bayron Biswas and the ED probe. The TMC is a corrupt party. Technically speaking, Biswas is still a Congress MLA.”CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “I am surprised that if an employee of (Banerjee) can own three companies and have crores of rupees, I wonder how much property and money his employers have.”
Lashing out at the TMC for “poaching” the Congress’s lone West Bengal MLA on Monday, state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said he “never had a bad impression of Bayron Biswas”.However, it might have served Chowdhury – who had staked his personal reputation on Biswas’s win on a Congress ticket just three months ago – better, to have been more circumspect.Biswas’s father Babar Ali Biswas might have been an old-time Congress loyalist, since working for veteran Pranab Mukherjee in his first Lok Sabha election from Jangipur in 2004, but with the Congress’s fortunes dwindling in West Bengal, the son himself has been quite the party hopper.In his political career so far, the 40-year-old has swung between the Congress and TMC more than once.While Bayron Biswas started his political innings with the Congress, that lasted briefly before he joined the TMC. In the 2021 Assembly elections, he first tried to get a ticket from the TMC, and when that failed, he returned to the Congress.The Sagardighi seat was won by the TMC by characteristic ease in its Muslim-dominated stronghold in the 2021 Assembly polls. It was when the sitting MLA died, resulting in the February bypoll, that Bayron finally got a political break. In a blow to the TMC, Bayron, fighting on Congress ticket with Left support, registered a 22,000-vote-plus win.Chowdhury stationed himself in the seat to see Bayron through, even skipping the Congress plenary. Sagardighi falls in Murshidabad, Chowdhury’s bastion and the Congress’s sole remaining bleak hope in West Bengal.On Monday, Bayron switched back to the TMC, while slamming the Congress, including Chowdhury, of doing little for his win and suggesting that they were in cahoots with the BJP.The eldest of five siblings – three brothers and two sisters – Bayron started out with the family business of beedi manufacturing soon after he had finished schooling. It was his father who had set up the business, at Samserganj in Murshidabad district, and gradually became known for his social work such as helping people with ambulance services, and medical support.Bayron also dabbled in the healthcare sector and set up a nursing home, before following his father into politics.After the bypoll win, Bayron had praised Chowdhury for steering the party’s campaign in Sagardighi. “Our leader Adhir Chowdhury fought from the front, and the CPI(M) gave its 100 per cent,” he had said.Soon after his victory in February in the bypoll, a controversy had erupted over an audio clip where he allegedly made “abusive” comments against a TMC leader and his mother. While Bayron dubbed the charges “baseless and politically motivated”, the TMC had demanded his arrest and an FIR was registered against him.On Monday, with characters on the two sides reversed, Chowdhury said he always thought well of Bayron, and added: “I want to ask Bayron bhai not to level allegations against the Congress… If we had not been there with you, you would not be what you are today.”He added: “But Didi (Mamata Banerjee), do not forget, what goes around, comes around.”
The Janata Dal (United) on Sunday said the first official meeting of Opposition parties would take place in Patna on June 12, with the top leaders of several non-BJP outfits set to attend. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) confirmed that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would attend the meeting, which will be the first big statement of Opposition unity in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections next year.“There will be a meeting of Opposition parties in Patna on June 12,” senior JD(U) leader Manjit Singh said. A top JD(U) leader said Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had revealed the date of the meeting during an informal meeting with his party colleagues. Congress insiders in New Delhi said Mamata Banerjee had asked Nitish Kumar to take the lead in organising the event since several parties, including the TMC, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), have a problem with the Congress being viewed as the leader of any eventual anti-BJP coalition. Since meeting Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and senior party leader Rahul Gandhi in Delhi last month, Nitish has been reaching out to the Opposition to bring them together on one platform before the Lok Sabha elections.A senior JD(U) leader said, “The meeting is finally going to happen in Patna. The idea was first mooted by West Bengal CM and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee during her meeting with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar recently, recollecting socialist legend Jayaprakash Narayan’s efforts to form the Janata Party in 1977 by bringing together several parties under one roof. We all liked to go with the symbolism and Patna is ready to host a historic show of Opposition unity.”Earlier this week, JD(U) chief spokesperson and advisor K C Tyagi hinted that work on organising the Patna meeting was going on. “Nitish Kumar has already met all the top Opposition leaders and now the stage is set to take it to a logical conclusion. The Bihar CM has been able to break the ice between the Congress and the AAP, and the Congress and the TMC,” he said.TMC MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay said Mamata Banerjee would attend the event. “The Opposition parties will put up a united fight against the BJP. Mamata Banerjee has made her points clear. If the Congress follows the same path, then it will further strengthen Opposition unity. Nitish Kumar came down here to meet Mamata Banerjee. She proposed that the meeting be held in Patna. They have accepted it. If all parties come together, then it will definitely boost our unity.”However, West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC) president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said notwithstanding what happens in Patna, his party would continue to fight the TMC in the state. “Even in Parliament, sometimes they (TMC) stand with us and sometimes they don’t. But that will not stop our fight against the TMC in Bengal. Notwithstanding the Opposition meeting and whether both parties come together, our movement against them will go on.”The JD(U) sees the Patna conclave as a great boost for Nitish Kumar’s ambition to showcase himself as a key leader in the anti-BJP camp in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. According to party insiders, there could be one-on-one contests between the BJP and an Opposition party in about 475 seats.Besides the JD(U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) from Bihar, and the TMC, the other parties that are expected to attend the rally are the Samajwadi Party (SP), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray). The confirmation of the presence of the top leaders of some of these parties is awaited, according to JD(U) insiders.— With inputs from ENS Delhi and Kolkata