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Saturday 19 November 2011

Congress ladies versus The Lady
Congress ladies versus The Lady
Deepa with Mausam during the padayatra in Calcutta on Friday. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Nov. 18: The battle for north Bengal was fought in Calcutta today by three feisty women in Bengal politics.
In the tarmac-paved street corner were Mausam Noor, the young MP and the state president of the Youth Congress, and Deepa Das Munshi, another MP and the protector of the Congress’s rights in north Bengal.
In the red-stone corner at Writers’ was Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister.
At stake was the Congress pie in north Bengal, the national party’s redoubt that has withstood the Left onslaught but is now facing a raid from a voracious Trinamul.
Mausam and Deepa landed a punch by organising a silent padayatra from Hazra Road crossing to Mayo Road in Calcutta in the afternoon, crippling traffic and provoking an outburst from Mamata.
“Now the Congress will have to take a decision whether they would remain with us or not, both at the Centre and in Bengal,” the chief minister told STAR Ananda.
Mamata said the Congress was free to leave the alliance if it wanted. “If they do not like to continue relations with us, it is better to leave us. We have a majority in Bengal. Besides, we can independently reach out to people,” she said.
The padayatra — Deepa and some others had gagged themselves with a black band — was intended at highlighting Trinamul’s alleged attacks on Congress workers in north Bengal districts such as Malda and North Dinajpur. Pockets of north Bengal have been bristling with turf battles since the new government assumed power. On Wednesday, a Trinamul worker was killed by alleged Congress supporters in Malda.
Mamata reminded the Congress of her support, not just in Bengal but also in Delhi. “This cannot go on that they simultaneously speak against us, attack our activists and share power with us in Bengal and enjoy our support in Delhi. This has to be sorted out because the Congress’s protests on road are strengthening the CPM’s hands.”
Congress central leaders tried in the evening to calm ruffled feathers but the tug-of-war has some political as well as personal history.
Mausam, who hails from the Khan Chowdhury family of Malda, used to enjoy a good rapport with Mamata. But relations apparently soured when Trinamul tried to spread its reach to Malda, where the Congress won eight of 12 Assembly seats in the last elections.
The Congress’s political future in a traditional stronghold at stake, Mausam appeared to be sending an unmistakable signal to Mamata by launching the protest march from a place — Hazra — not far from the chief minister’s house.
The march appears to have touched a raw nerve in Mamata, who said her party was also capable of taking out a hundred processions against the Congress. “But we cannot do this because we believe in shristachar (cordiality) and we respect our ally,” she added.
Deepa has always been vocal against Mamata, especially when she tries to protect her ailing husband Priya Ranjan Das Munshi’s turf in North Dinajpur.
Deepa’s latest grouse is a fear, not entirely unfounded, that an AIIMS-like institute Priya Ranjan had planned for Raiganj and got cleared by the Centre could be shifted by the Mamata government.
Trinamul leader and Union junior health minister Sudip Bandopadhyay told The Telegraph: “The state government has now decided that the AIIMS-like hospital will come up in Nadia.” Officials said over 100 acres had been found at Kalyani in Nadia.
Deepa has already launched an agitation, which she today threatened to intensify, to pile pressure on the Mamata government to acquire the land identified in Raiganj.
Mamata tonight phoned Pranab Mukherjee to lodge a complaint against the padayatra. Mukherjee then spoke to state Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya to express his “reservations” about the rally.
AICC Bengal in-charge Shakeel Ahmed said he would seek a report from the state Congress. “We have no intention to do something that will jeopardise the alliance with Mamataji,” he said.
Although Mausam and Deepa stood out in the padayatra, the state Congress had thrown its weight behind the event. Bhattacharya and Sabina Yasmin, minister of state for labour in Bengal, joined the march. But Deepa and Yasmin, who is from Malda, were not seen at the brief meeting on Mayo Road where the march ended. ( )

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