As Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrived in Malda to address her first public rally ahead of the Assembly polls, there were no Trinamool flags lining the roads leading to the District Sports Authority ground — the venue of the rally. Inside, the stands remained half-full.
Malda represents Mamata’s toughest battleground in the six-phase Assembly elections slated to begin on April 4. Even in 2011, when she swept the state, the TMC did not bag a single seat in Malda.
“There was a larger crowd in 2011. People had thronged to meet her. But even then, she didn’t manage to get a single seat here. This year, she hasn’t even managed to draw that kind of crowd,’’ said a man present at the rally.
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With Mamata yet to arrive, her close aide and State Minister Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury, made a desperate appeal for people to be brought to the stadium. “There are many people standing near the bridge, please bring them here. All those who have not come in yet, please bring them in. Didi is on her way,’’ said Choudhury, who won the 2013 bypoll from Malda’s English Bazaar constituency after switching from the Congress to the TMC.
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Malda — a Muslim-majority district that has been a Congress bastion for decades — does not go to polls in the first phase. But Mamata still made it her first stop. She was accompanied by party vice-president Mukul Roy and late Congress leader ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury’s brother, Anu Naser, who recently left the Congress for the TMC.
Mamata attacked the Congress-Left “understanding” in her 45-minute speech. “They have always been close. I am happy that at least now their association is out in the open…but they have always been together,” she said.
“In 2011, when we brought change in Bengal, we didn’t get a single seat in Malda. But I have not misunderstood you. That is why this time too I start my campaign and hold my first meeting here,” she said.
Malda district, with 12 Assembly constituencies, goes to polls on April 17.