“Communal BJP”, “Goonda RSS”, “Demonetisation” in 2019 to “Phirey Daekha Ekushey July (Looking Back At The July 21 Martyrs’ Day) in 2020 — Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is ready with a new chant as she gears up to lead a virtual Shahid Diwas mega rally on July 21 in West Bengal to mark the killing of 13 Youth Congress activists on that day in 1993.
Armed with a crackdown on her own corrupt party leaders, an image makeover and highlighting her government’s achievements before the people – Didi’s Shahid Diwas speech is undoubtedly in many ways going to decide the future trajectory of people’s mood in the state considering the crucial 2021 assembly polls, observers say.
The heart-wrenching pictures of thousands of migrant workers walking miles after miles and some states diluting labour laws during the Covid-19 crisis would very likely be in West Bengal chief minister’s mind as themes to attack the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with in her July 21 speech.
Every year, the day is observed by Mamata in remembrance of the 13 Youth Congress workers who were killed in Kolkata police firing on July 21, 1993, while pressing their demand to make voter identity card the sole document required for voting. The chief minister, who was in the Indian National Congress at the time, was leading the protest.
Over the years, the rally has transformed into an opportunity for Mamata to show her strength to political opponents. Lakhs of people gather at Kolkata’s Maidan area to attend the Shahid Diwas programme, but this time Mamata will make her speech on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since last year’s event, and and a-bit-wary Mamata (particularly after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll results showed the BJP had made massive gains in Bengal) has changed her stance substantially to get her party leaders organised for the 2021 assembly polls amid allegations of “syndicates”, “cut money” and “Cyclone Amphan relief loot” involving some TMC members.
A recent example was the show-cause notices sent to 200 party workers from just the Nandigram assembly constituency in East Midnapore – the place which helped Mamata form her government in Bengal for the first time in 2011 by ending the Left Front’s 34-year rule in the state.
“Perform or perish; I will bring a new face. There is no place for corruption in my party,” she recently warned her party leaders through a videoconferencing meet.
Party insiders said that besides highlighting the transparency in her governance, she will try to project the BJP as “rich, communal outsiders” and that it doesn’t have a place in the “Bangaliana” culture of Bengal.
The strategy to mobilise people based on their social and economic status worked well for Mamata when she came to power in 2011 with her famous “Amra-Ora (Us vs Them)” slogan.
“This time, on the same lines, Mamata is likely to highlight the intentions of political leaders from other states who have been levelling a series of allegations against her government without even knowing the geography, culture and emotion of the state. For example, recently BJP MP Tejasvi Surya from Karnataka tweeted about the Hemtabad BJP MLA death case. Our condolences to the deceased’s family members, but do you actually think he should tweet without knowing the facts? Or do you think the people in Bengal actually care who Tejasvi Surya is?” a senior TMC leader said.
“Forget about Tejasvi Surya. Do you think, except a few, people know the state BJP leaders by their faces and names?”
Mamata’s clout in Indian politics can be gauged by the occasion when former President Pranab Mukherjee, a Bengali and an intellectual, described her as a “born rebel” and recalled how she once stormed out of a meeting, which left him “humiliated” and “insulted”.
Following her 2011 poll victory, instead of grand processions, Mamata had decided to walk down to the iconic Writers’ Building (state secretariat) in her flip-flops as lakhs of people marched behind her amid slogans of “Bodla Na, Bodol Chai (We want change, not revenge)”.
TMC district presidents, party leaders, block presidents, booth-level workers, MLAs and MPs have already swung into action with aggressive campaigning (involving small groups of people to ensure social distancing) with slogans like, “Phirey Dekha Ekushey July”, “Didi Aachhe Chinta Nei (Don’t worry, Didi is here)”, ‘Hridoye Aachhe Mamata (Mamata is in our hearts)” and “Banglar Gorbo Mamata (Mamata is Bengal’s pride)”.
They are also highlighting how the CM’s schemes like Kanyashree, Sabuj Sathi, Khadya Sathi, Sabujshree, Shikshashree, Gatidhara, Gitanjali, Lok Prasar Prakalpa, Fair Price Medicine Shops, Shishu Sathi, Shishu Aloy, Pathasathi, Swasthya Sathi, Sabala, Anandadhara, Yuvashree, Samabyathi, Baitarani, Swabalamban, Khelashree, Safe Drive Save Life, Mission Nirmal Bangla, etc, have transformed Bengal in the past nine years, party leaders say.
The Trinamool Congress has been organising Shahid Diwas every year since 1998 and this year’s commemoration will be a mega event as Mamata will kick off her assembly poll campaign via Facebook at 2 pm on July 21.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this year, it is not possible to mark July 21 at the Maidan. Therefore, I have decided to address my people through a virtual platform at 2 pm. I would like to request my people to gather at their respective booths from 1 pm to hoist flags and pay respects to the martyrs. Please don’t gather in large numbers and maintain social distancing,” Mamata said recently.
This will be Mamata’s first virtual political rally in Bengal. Arrangements are in full swing to take her speech among the people at nearly 80,000 booths in the state. More than 3 lakh people across Bengal are likely to participate in this event.
The TMC has also decided to circulate an audio version of Mamata’s speech to party workers and supporters for maximum coverage.