“They can’t control me by sending notices. I am made of a different material. The more they use ED and CBI, the more the people will come to us.” This is what Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee said as he campaigned for party colleague Babul Supriyo who is contesting for West Bengal’s Ballygunge assembly seat in a by-election to be held on April 12. The same day will see another bypoll in the state for the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency where the ruling TMC has fielded actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha.
Though it was a campaign for a local election, Abhishek attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from a national perspective.
The TMC alleges that the Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation are being used by the BJP, which is in power at the Centre, as political tools to repeatedly target Abhishek Banerjee and other opposition leaders. So, party insiders say, the Diamond Harbour MP stressed that he and Trinamool are not afraid of the agencies. The BJP has rubbished these charges.
“They are show-causing chief secretary, they are arresting ministers…They arrested our leader Subrata Mukherjee. He is no more now. But they have not arrested the person who was seen taking money on TV,” said Abhishek, in an apparent dig at BJP leader and former party colleague Suvendu Adhikari over the Narada sting case.
He once again alleged that the CBI was being used to settle political scores. Abhishek has been facing heat from central agencies over alleged links to a coal smuggling case.
Over the past month, the BJP has pointed out law and order problems in Rampurhat, Jhalda, Aliah University, etc. The party, which lost the fiercely fought 2021 West Bengal assembly elections to the TMC and some subsequent polls in the state as well, is trying to resurrect itself by highlighting various failings of the Trinamool. Union home minister Amit Shah himself has raised questions on Bengal’s law and order situation in Parliament. The BJP and Congress both have urged for the Centre’s intervention in the state.
Abhishek, who is chief minister and TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, said, “If President’s rule is applied then last time we got 213 seats (in assembly polls). This time we will get more than 250.”
Babul, who switched from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the TMC after the assembly polls, is contesting from Ballygunge where two wards are Muslim-dominated. The BJP is focusing on his history with the saffron party.
“Babul has joined the TMC because of its ideology,” said Abhishek. “To those who are saying a vote for Babul is a vote for BJP…let me tell you, Babul has travelled all the way from ‘Jai Shree Ram’ to ‘Joy Bangla’.”
With central pressure increasing, say party insiders, Abhishek’s campaign boosted the cadre morale.
Price rise, particularly of petrol diesel, etc, has emerged as a big issue in the bypolls too and TMC is looking to target the BJP with it. Abhishek pointed out that “after losing in Bengal, the BJP-led Centre reduced prices, but after winning Uttar Pradesh they have increased them 14 times”.
The route of the TMC leader’s rally led from an upmarket locality to a Muslim-dominated area.
“We will go to other states and defeat the BJP,” said Abhishek, who is organising the party’s national push ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. “We will take them head on in Meghalaya, Tripura next year. Even in Goa (where the BJP won assembly polls last month and Trinamool didn’t make much of an impression), we will stay.”