West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday defended arrested TMC leader Anubrata Mondal stating the party will continue to “fight this battle to the end”. The TMC supremo also questioned the role of BSF in the cattle smuggling case and asserted the leader will not be cowed down before threats from the Opposition.
Addressing the crowd during TMC’s Freedom At Midnight programme in Behala, Kolkata on the eve of India’s 76th Independence Day, the chief minister raised the reason behind Anubrata Mondal’s arrest and said the leader never aspired for any political positions including a berth in Rajya Sabha.
In an apparent attack against the opposition, she said, “Why did you arrest Keshto (Anubrata)? You kept him on house arrest before every election… Yet you failed to stop us from winning elections… He never aspired for any positions… Never wanted to become an MP or MLA… Even turned down my request to go to the Rajya Sabha.”
She further questioned how the cattle smuggling was able to take place via corridor from BJP-led states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and the role of BSF to prevent such trading. “You have charged Keshto with cattle smuggling… I ask you where did the cattle come from… Why do cattle stock come from Bihar and UP to Bengal to be smuggled outside using this state as corridor?… What is the BSF doing at the border to prevent this?” she said.
“I believe Keshto (Anubrata) will not be afraid, will not be cowed down… One Keshto will be replaced by lakhs of other Keshtos in Bengal,” the chief minister asserted.
Asking the opposition to name the “so-called sources” who reported “information” on cattle smuggling, Banerjee called for bringing them “out in the open.” In an attack against Suvendu Adhikari, who joined BJP from Trinamool Congress before the Bengal Assembly elections, without naming the leader she said, “the traitor deserted the Trinamool before the elections. What if I ask him how many houses, cars, petrol pumps, trailers and innumerable other assets he owns? All will be revealed in due time,” she said. “How does he have the audacity to ask for the assets of others?”
Referring to the arrest of three Jharkhand Congress MLAs by the West Bengal Police after over Rs 49 lakh in cash was seized from their SUV and the fall of the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government in Maharashtra due to defection by Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde, Banerjee said parties have tried and succeeded in toppling state governments using horse-trading. “We caught the 3 Jharkhand MLAs red-handed with money to topple the government, Rs 10 crore were being given to buy MLAs. They have done it in Maharashtra, they have paid crores for horse trading… Why will they not face the ED or CBI?” she asked.
Accusing the BJP of corruption where “thousands of crores of rupees are getting siphoned off” she asked “Where is BJP is getting all its money from?” She said, “You project yourself as you are the only honest party and all the others are thieves. They will be judged in the court of the people.”
The chief minister launched a veiled attack on the opposition and said she reconsidered attending the event today due to rains but decided to come to avoid “another controversy.” “I was thinking if I should come here or not as it was raining badly. But then I thought it may cause another controversy. Some could say, someone (referring to Partha Chatterjee) is behind the bar and that is why I skipped this program,” she said.
Referring to the BJP-led government’s ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign under the aegis of the Centre’s Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav programme, she said, “those who are suddenly all gung-ho about the flag were nowhere to be found during our freedom struggle… They speak of flag once, hit with stick thrice (ekbar jhanda to teen bar danda).”
“You dictate us to hoist the National Flag. We have been doing that since we were born. Who are you to dictate that to us? We do that out of our own sense of patriotism. We don’t need your patronage to do that,” she said.
Asking whether the country has political freedom, Banerjee said, “Our freedom is at stake in all walks of life… You do not have your political freedom because you are taking away our right to speak out… Our economic freedom is at stake… Our banks are being looted,” she said. She further alleged that an agenda has been made to tarnish her image using media trial. “Everyday morning they are told to do news against me,” she said.
She further said the Central agencies have plundered Keshto’s (Anubrata) house in the name of search operation and challenged the opposition who, according to her has a “list” prepared to send TMC leaders in jail. “You are naming Bobby, Aroop, Mala, Subhasish, Abhishek as those in their list… I am asking them to spell out the dates of arrest… I will fill up your jails on our own… Let’s see how much room you have in your jails,” she said.
In reference to the speculations of alleged “settlement” of cases against TMC leaders with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting last week, she dismissed the rumours stating she sought his intervention for urgent release of funds due to the state on account of the implementation of schemes. “They have come up with the “setting” theory because I met the PM? Will I not ask for the money which duly belongs to us? How will I run the administration here?”
Lashing out at CPI(M) and Congress, she said that when Sitaram Yechury or Congress chief ministers attend programmes of the Centre, there is no talk of any “setting”, but when she goes for a government meeting, such allegations are made.
She further said, the BJP will not win in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. “Modi will not come back to power in 2024,” she said. Banerjee vowed that with August 16 being Khela Hobe’ divas, as declared in 2021, the game will restart again from that day with agitations, meetings and rallies. Khela hobe’ (game will be played) was TMC’s slogan for 2021 West Bengal assembly polls.
Banerjee alleged that the BJP was trying to weaken the TMC in Bengal.”Have you seen Royal Bengal Tiger? Come and see,” she said asking her party workers not to be afraid. “They want to gag us the way they have done that to some other parties to ensure that no opposition force stands up in the country,” Banerjee said.
Both the CPI(M) and the Congress have criticised Banerjee and the TMC over the recent arrests of Partha Chatterjee in a school recruitment scam, and Mondal in connection with the cattle smuggling case.
Attacking the CPI-M, she said the party is steeped in corruption. “They have burnt the files which would have exposed their corruption. And the BJP is sending notices to our workers’ homes twice daily,” she added.
In a reference to Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) notices on 8 senior IPS officers of West Bengal in an alleged coal smuggling case earlier this week, she said, “They are also trying to intimidate our officers… They have summoned 8 IPS from this state.”
Mondal, who has several chronic ailments, underwent several tests at Command Hospital in Kolkata on Sunday and was checked by a team of doctors. The medical examinations were done under the direction of the court, which asked the agency to monitor his health condition regularly. He was then taken to the CBI’s Nizam Palace office for further questioning in the cattle smuggling case.
A CBI team arrested Mondal, the TMC’s Birbhum district president, on Thursday after picking him up from his Bolpur residence. He had skipped CBI summons multiple times, citing his health issues.