Papan Mondal, a fruit vendor, who came to do brisk buisness at the venue where West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held her last rally before the Lok Sabha polls conclude, wants to see her as the next Prime Minister of India.
The reason being his anger with demonetisation which not only hit his business, but also led to his son, employed with a local shopkeeper, losing his job. Later, his son found a contractual state government job without the provisions for pension or pay scale.
Although he isn’t sure how Banerjee can help spur economic development in the state or the country, he wants to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi ousted. But why Banerjee? He hasn’t seen any other leader so fierce in their approach or with oratory skills like her.
While selling slices of cucumber to Jyotsna Noor, a homemaker, who came to attend the rally, he said, “I see Modi coming to West Bengal at the time of elections. The rest of the year, I don’t see him”.
Noor nods in agreement. She praises Banerjee for launching schemes like Swasthya Sathi, Kanyashree and others. Her farmer husband is insured by the state for crop loss.
Thousands have poured in to hear Bannerjee speak from all corners of the Diamond Harbour constituency from where Abhishek Banerjee, the TMC supremo’s nephew is contesting.
The destruction of a Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar statue has been a sentimental attack on their pride. Although most of them aren’t sure about Vidyasagar's contributions to the Indian Renaissance, the rally attendees recognise him as 'some great Bengali' while a small section among the youth know he was an educationist.
And it is this pride the junior Banerjee harps upon. Not only does he promise the cheering crowd of Rs 25 crore to build a 50-foot statue of the leader, he also assures them that statutes of Rabindranath Tagore, Vivekananda and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose will be erected. The commitment was enough to bring the crowd joy as the mercury soared to nearly 40 degrees Celsius.
Relying on his close confidantes and support from locals, Abhishek Banerjee declared, “Bharati Ghosh had said she’ll bring 1,000 goons from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to beat up Bengalis. Let her get them. They will come, but won’t go back”.
Ghosh, a former confidante of the chief minister, is contesting on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket from the Ghatal constituency.
Taking a swipe at PM Narendra Modi, he added, “Modi is actually afraid. So, he is coming here often. If I am defeated, I will do 1,000 sit ups holding my ears; I challenge Modi’s candidate to promise to do the same if he loses”.
Nilanjan Roy from the BJP is junior Banerjee's main opponent for the Diamond Harbour seat.
The stage is set for the chief minister to take over the stage and ensure her nephew retains this constituency.
She starts with her usual low-toned rhetoric that gains decibel with time. Bannerjee says, “This is perhaps my last meeting to oust Modi. I’ll be attending several padayataras today nonetheless”.
Speaking of Bengal’s contribution to the independence movement and India's development, and how the Modi government allegedly tried to dismantle Bengali pride, she asked the youth in the crowd, "Do you feel dejected? Modi is saying he’ll built Vidyasagar’s statue again, we don’t need him. As the dead cannot be raised to life again, what is done cannot be undone. I ask you to avenge this insult by voting against Modi”.
While cautioning people that Modi and his party are hell bent on destroying Bengal’s heritage, she added, “Modi is saying we (Trinamool Congress) have destroyed the statute. I challenge him to prove it. If TMC has done it, I will leave politics and do 1,000 sit-ups holding my ears. I challenge Modi to do the same if his party is found guilty”.
She alleged that the BJP was behind the destruction of the statue of Ambedkar in Uttar Pradesh and also behind the dismantling of Karl Marx and V I Lenin’s busts in Tripura.
As her speech progresses, a voice from the charged-up crowd shouts, “Modi chor hai (Modi is a thief)".
Nodding in agreement, she assures a prize for anyone who catches the 'BJP goons' tampering with electronic votingmachines (EVMs).
Earlier, Bannerjee, along with former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and Chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, Farooq Abdullah, had claimed that EVMs are susceptible to hacking and the BJP will use it to their benefit.
Upping her tone, she refers to the political fight between Modi and her, she says, “Modi, how well do you know me? Throughout my life, I have struggled and faced bullets. If I can dislodge 34 long years of Left Front rule in this state, I can and will throw you out”.
With the sultry heat rising and an otherwise pleasant breeze suddenly stopping, Banerjee turns her ire towards the Election Commission which has prohibited political rallies and shows from 10:00 pm Thursday.
“If we cannot hold any political rallies and meetings, then Modi’s campaigns in Uttar Pradesh cannot also be shown in Bengal. EC has to ensure a level playing field”.
Reprimanding Hindu orthodoxy, Banerjee claims herself to be of a liberal mindset and attacks Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, but minces her words to avoid referring to the religious right.
“I have come to know that in Uttar Pradesh, youth are harassed for dating and friendship between males and females. I am of a liberal mindset and it is natural and acceptable for young people to date and make friendships. Even my nephew has done a love marriage and I accepted it”, she said she says to a huge applause.
As Bannerjee's speech draws to a close and she says her party will form the government in Delhi, she cautions people to not pay attention to fake news about communal violence and tensions. She alleges that the BJP is desperately trying to flare up communal tensions in this state for political gains.
After singing the national anthem, she leaves the stage and walks towards her helicopter. People ask her for selfies. And then, they move on to a feast of biriyani and other savouries.