Kolkata, Feb 4 (IANS) On the makeshift stage hung a large “Save India” banner. Thousands of Trinamool Congress activists, curious onlookers and a large posse of media persons thronged the dais on the side of the bustling road where West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee paced up and down, shouting instructions.
On day two of her dharna (sit-in), Banerjee, who showed no signs of fatigue, seemed to be completely at ease doing what she has always revelled in – street protest.
After hitting the road at around 9 pm on Sunday, a couple of hours after a dramatic but ugly face-off between the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Kolkata police, the Chief Minister has not left the dharna venue for even a minute.
Associates said she skipped dinner and stayed up all night, accompanied by her close associates – some state ministers and top party leaders. A large number of Trinamool activists also kept vigil through the night, expressing solidarity with their didi (elder sister, as Banerjee is affectionately called).
It brought back memories of the chilly December nights 12 years back, when Banerjee had held a 25-day hunger strike protesting against the forcible acquisition of land from peasants of Singur (in Hooghly district) for the Tata Motors’ Nano project. The venue was the same – the Metro Y Channel near the Dharmatala crossing on Jawaharlal Nehru Road.
The Singur hunger strike, coupled with her championing of the peasant protests in Nandigram of East Midnapore district against a proposed chemical hub in 2006-2007, had completely changed the political scene in Bengal, and the Trinamool rode to power ending 34 years of Left Front rule in 2011.
Now, more than seven and half years into her chief ministerial tenure, Banerjee has again returned to her street fighter avatar, months before the Lok Sabha polls, apparently hoping it would give her rich dividends politically.
In an unprecedented confrontation between the centre and the West Bengal government, Banerjee began the sit-in on Sunday night accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah of attempting a coup to destabilise her state, saying there is a “constitutional break-down”.
The showdown started after the federal probe agency’s officers showed up near the residence of Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, who has been under the scanner in connection with the CBI probe into the ponzi scheme scam case.
The CBI officials were confronted by the Kolkata police personnel, who also forcibly took some of the agency men to a police station.
Banerjee rushed to the house of Kumar, who is seen as close to her, and later began the sit-in “in a bid to save the constitution and federal structure of the country”.
On Sunday, the site was wrapped in a thick veil of security, with a large number of personnel of the city police, the Rapid Action Force, the anti-rowdy force and fire brigade at the spot.
Banerjee took the hand mike from time to time, telling her party leaders about the future course of action, and delivering brief speeches attacking the centre and the BJP, with Modi and Shah being her main targets.
There was also a cultural touch, as singers, local film and television actors crowded the venue, rendering songs and reciting poems.
Adding to the drama, a brief meeting of the state cabinet was held at the city police’s traffic guard office behind the sit-in venue, to clear the state budget proposals which were placed in the assembly later in the day.
“Today is our budget day. So we have to hold the meeting. Since I am on dharna, the meeting had to be shifted here,” Banerjee said.
She also addressed a peasant conference of her party, held less than a kilometre away at the Netaji Indoor stadium, via video conference from the Metro channel stage.
Once the conference got over, the peasants walked in a procession to the demonstration site.
Another temporary stage was being built beside the main dais to accommodate more politicians, intellectuals and personalities from the state’s entertainment industry, who are expected to join Banerjee in her demonstration.
The spirited Trinamool activists who gathered near the stage since morning waved party flags and shouted slogans like “Modi Chor Hai” (PM Modi is a thief) and “Modi hatao, desh bachao (remove Modi and save the country)”.
“We are here for our beloved Chief minister. We do not care what the issue is. Our leader and Chief Minister is demonstrating on the street. We are here to show our support towards her,” an activist said.
(Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at [email protected])