BENGAL POLITICS: Rahul rolls up sleeves with call to revive Bengal party – readying for the electoral fight ahead to help save Bengal from itself ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
Calcutta, Sept. 6: CPM on his lips but Trinamul Congress not far away, Rahul Gandhi today exhorted his party supporters to breathe fresh life into the Congress and went on to display his star power by working the crowds on the streets just as his grandmother used to do years ago.
Rahul tore into the CPM but did not mention the Trinamul Congress or Mamata Banerjee. But Congress sources pointed out that the party could revive only at the expense of ally Trinamul.
Later, at a closed-door session with Congress officials where he was free of the compulsions of a public meeting, the AICC general secretary asked state leaders not to sacrifice their self-respect for the sake of the alliance, a source said. ( )
If Rahul indeed used words like “izzat kho kar nahin (not at the cost of self-respect)” as a source quoted him as saying, it will be a shot in the arm for state Congress president Manas Bhuniya who has been trying to revive the Bengal unit ever since he took over three months ago.
In public, Rahul stayed singularly focused on the need to rebuild the organisation. “Our objective in Bengal is to strengthen the party organisation in order to take on the CPM,” Rahul said during his nine-minute speech at a Youth Congress rally at the Shahid Minar grounds.
“Five years ago, some people told me not to go to Uttar Pradesh saying my efforts at reviving the party there would not be successful. But now people are saying that we, too, are contenders for power there. In five years, our party has come alive in Uttar Pradesh. I was told the same about Tamil Nadu, but the Youth Congress has now increased its base there,” Rahul said.
“Bengal me bhi Congress ko punarjivit karenge. Teen-chaar mahine me Bengal me badlaaw hoga (We will revive the Congress in Bengal. There will be a change in Bengal in three to four months). I am sure the Youth Congress’s strength will increase here.’’
Since Rahul spoke in Hindi, not all among the 10,000-strong audience understood him fully, but the moment he ducked past barricades and mingled with a section of the crowd, and later when his cavalcade rode on the streets of Calcutta, his ability to connect was unmistakable.
As Rahul’s convoy rolled out of the state Congress headquarters around 4.40pm after he chaired a meeting with PCC leaders, he was mobbed by Congress workers. Several people, not all Youth Congress members and some with cellphones and digital cameras, lined CIT Road to catch a glimpse.
Rahul acknowledged the crowd by stepping out and standing on the footboard of the SUV, waving and sometimes reaching out to shake hands with the spectators. Veterans were reminded of Indira Gandhi, who used to draw similar kerbside crowds in many parts of the country even when she was out of power.
“Not only party workers and supporters but common people also joined them and jostled to have a glimpse of Rahulji. We were a little bit scared when he got down from his car on Ananda Palit Road to mix with the crowd, giving his security personnel an anxious moment. It reminded me of his late father and his late grandmother who also used to do so,” said PCC general secretary Maya Ghosh.
At the public meeting, a senior state Congress leader said, Rahul did not take Trinamul’s name while talking about a Congress revival in Bengal to avoid controversies involving allies.
“In the case of two parties in an alliance, the strength of one can increase only at the cost of the other. If Rahul’s call leads to an increase in Youth Congress membership, it will certainly be at Trinamul’s expense,” the party leader said.
Rahul appealed to the crowd to join the Congress in large numbers and make the Youth Congress’s membership drive a success.
“All of you should join politics. We will ensure free and fair Youth Congress polls from the booth level (onwards) across the country, and this will happen in Bengal too. There will be no ‘friendship’ or nepotism in the membership drive; those who get elected will come up.’’
Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who too was on the dais, praised Rahul’s “organisational commitment in Uttar Pradesh’’, saying it had increased the party’s tally from the state in last year’s Lok Sabha elections.
“Starting from Motilal Nehru, Rahul is the pancham purush (fifth-generation Nehru-Gandhi) in the Congress. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress’s Lok Sabha seats increased significantly because of Rahul’s efforts. We have emerged as a big force in Uttar Pradesh after nearly 15 years,’’ Mukherjee said.
Rahul said the CPM would be “uprooted” from Bengal. “We have two Bengals here. One is the CPM’s Bengal, paise ka Bengal (the Bengal of corruption). The other is poor, backward Bengal. I went to China recently and communists there asked me about the Bengal communists. ‘Where have they got stuck?’ senior Chinese leaders asked,’’ he said.
“The UPA government sends funds to Bengal for the NREGA (rural job scheme). It announces loan waivers. But the money goes to the CPM and then vanishes. For 33 years, this has been happening.”
Rahul alleged that the below-poverty-line list in Bengal did not have the names of the poor but only those of CPM workers. “In this state, 45 per cent of the people do not have ration cards. Build up your organisation. CPM ko ukhaar diya jayega; CPM rahega ki nahin, yeh sawaal ka faisla ho gaya hai (the CPM will be uprooted; the question whether the CPM will stay or not has been decided),” he said to applause from the crowd.
Reacting later, CPM state secretariat member Mohammad Salim said: “Rahul Gandhi has spoken a lot without ascertaining the facts on NREGA. In the panchayat and Lok Sabha elections, there was a change in the people’s verdict. But now, people in Lalgarh, Bankura, Purulia and Birbhum want to reverse that change. It is for the Congress to decide whether to stay with Trinamul and the Maoists. Rahul shouldn’t worry about our party’s future. He should think about his party’s prospects.”
Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta described Rahul’s comments as “incorrect”. “He hasn’t been furnished with correct facts and figures. We still have not received the entire central funds under the NREGA. I normally do not react to such statements. But he has got his facts wrong,” Dasgupta said at Writers’ Buildings.
PM refers to injury to reporter – still Jaani-Naa ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, Sept. 6: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today indicated that he was aware of the controversy in Bengal about alleged armed camps of the CPM in areas around Lalgarh.
The Prime Minister did not name the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government or the CPM but referred to the picture of The Telegraph’s principal correspondent, Pronab Mondal, whose hand was fractured when he and six other journalists were attacked on Friday.
Replying to a question on Mamata Banerjee’s allegations on the issue, Singh first said: “I don’t want to comment.”
The Prime Minister followed it up saying he had seen the picture (above) in The Telegraph of the injuries that the CPM attack on journalists had caused. “There was the picture of The Telegraph reporter’s arm in bandage.”
(Mondal tonight underwent a surgery on his left forearm at a Calcutta hospital. A metal plate was fixed to his broken bone.)
The Prime Minister stood by Union home minister P. Chidambaram who had talked of the armed CPM camps. “What needs to be done has to be done,” he added.
Took immediate steps on media attack: CM – albeit a little embarrassed 3 days later ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
Sept. 6: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said he took “immediate steps” after learning about the attack on journalists in West Midnapore, making the first such statement in public three days after the assault by CPM activists.
“As soon as I came to know about the attack on journalists, I immediately took steps. Police have already taken action,” the chief minister said at Writers’ Buildings.
Over three hours after the attack on Friday, the chief minister had said he did not know (“jani na”).
On Saturday, the police arrested three CPM activists in connection with the attack but were “unable to find” the two local party leaders named in the FIR: Pirakata local committee secretary Madhusudan Mahato and local committee member Jagannath Mahato.
Police sources said the duo were hiding in camps the CPM had set up after “recapturing” the area from Maoists.
“According to information available with us, Madhusudan is staying at the CPM camp at Kalshibhanga and Jagannath is staying at the camp in Pathri. We went to the two villages searching for them more than once,” an officer said. “But CPM supporters are guarding these villages. They alert their leaders before our raids and they go into hiding.”
“We are trying to arrest Madhusudan and Jagannath,” West Midnapore superintendent of police Manoj Verma said. “We have also got some more names and are conducting raids in search of them. The case is being supervised by an officer of deputy superintendent rank.”
The seven journalists, who were attacked with iron rods and sticks, included The Telegraph’s principal correspondent Pronab Mondal and the newspaper’s photographer Amit Datta.