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West Bengal: Martyrs’ Day rally today, TMC may unveil 2024 plan

The rally is crucial to the TMC because its chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee uses the platform to set the party’s roadmap for the next 12 months and, over the years, important leaders from other parties have joined it on the Shaheed Diwas stage.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
Updated: July 21, 2022 10:21:25 am
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee oversees preparations ahead of the July 21 Shaheed Diwas rally in Kolkata on Thursday. (Express Photo)

It is the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) most important annual event and on Thursday the party will hold the Shaheed Diwas (Martyrs’ Day) rally in the heart of Kolkata after a two-year break because of Covid-19.

The rally is crucial to the TMC because its chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee uses the platform to set the party’s roadmap for the next 12 months and, over the years, important leaders from other parties have joined it on the Shaheed Diwas stage. The last time the rally was held, in 2019, Banerjee used the stage to lift the morale of TMC workers that had taken a hit following the party’s poor show in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

This time speculation is rife about more defectors from the BJP joining the ruling party at the Shaheed Diwas stage. That will further weaken the Opposition. Mamata Banerjee, party insiders said, was likely to set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and address the allegation that the party took a step back in the presidential and vice-presidential poll after initially taking the initiative to field Yashwant Sinha as the Opposition’s joint candidate for the presidential election. The Congress and the CPI(M) have accused the TMC of entering into a tacit agreement with the BJP after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) named former West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar its vice-presidential poll nominee.

As TMC workers from different parts of the state descend on Kolkata, the party is expecting a record crowd to turn up in Dharmatala — the only time it was held in a different place was in 2011 at the Brigade Parade Ground after the TMC came to power by unseating the Left — and the police have mobilised 3,000 of its personnel apart from 1,000 traffic policemen to control the crowd. Many stadiums have been readied to accommodate the visiting TMC workers and on Thursday traffic on almost
10 roads will be diverted, and several schools in the city will remain shut.

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TMC general secretary and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee said, “TMC workers have huge sentiment and spontaneity. Already almost one lakh people have reached Kolkata. We think tomorrow’s rally will break all records.”

In a social media post, the CM said, “21st July 2022 is only a day away and as the preparations near completion, we are brimming with emotions. We are taken back in time as we remember the faces of our brave martyrs and not a day goes by in our lives without remembering the supreme sacrifice of our martyrs. For generations to come, the entire Trinamool Congress family will unite on every #ShahidDibas and pay our heartfelt tribute to the martyrs. Your blood will never go in vain, we promise!”

CM Mamata Banerjee enjoys a cup of tea while overseeing preparations for the rally. (Express Photo)

Why Shaheed Diwas is important

Shaheed Diwas became the most crucial annual event for the TMC following its formation in 1998 as it allowed the party to lay claim to a legacy of anti-CPI(M) politics and create a narrative of being the most crucial political force standing up to the Left in West Bengal.

Banerjee had emerged as a focal point for the Congress following a vicious attack by CPI(M) workers in south Kolkata in August 1990. She had created ripples six years earlier by defeating prominent CPI(M) leader, and later Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee from Jadavpur, which was considered the Left party’s bastion, in parliamentary elections. The attack in 1990 showed that by design or not the CPI(M), almost seen as an invincible political force in the state, viewed Banerjee as a threat.

On July 21, 1993, the state Youth Congress, then led by Banerjee organised a “Writers’ abhijaan (March to Writers’ Building, a colonial building that was the seat of the state secretariat)”, with the demand to make voter ID cards the only document required for voting. The Congress raised this demand to put an end to the alleged rigging of polls by the Left.

Veteran TMC MP Saugata Roy, who participated in the rally in 1993, recalled that thousands of Youth Congress workers gathered at five different points in the city before starting the march towards Writers’ Building. But Jyoti Basu, the chief minister at the time, had announced that he would not allow the Youth Congress workers to lay siege on the state secretariat and the government imposed prohibitory orders to quell the demonstration.

As one of the Youth Congress processions approached the Writers’ Building from the Mayo Road area, the police stopped it and a scuffle broke out. A few of the protesters people started throwing stones and the police responded with a baton charge. As the protest kept gaining momentum, the police, afraid they would be outnumbered, opened fire and killed 13 Youth Congress workers.

“Since July 21, 1994, the first anniversary of the deadly clash, Mamata Banerjee has held an annual rally in central Kolkata to commemorate the 13 young men killed on July 21, 1993. Since the formation of the Trinamool Congress on January 1, 1998, the July 21 rally has been the biggest day in the annual calendar of the party,” political scientist Sumantra Bose wrote in his book Transforming India: Challenges to the World’s Largest Democracy.
Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP on Wednesday hit out at the TMC over the issue, saying TMC workers were being brought to Kolkata with the promise of food packets and the government machinery had been mobilised for a party event.

“Block Development Officers (BDOs) are organising food and drinks. The Health Department, District Magistrates, and BDOs have issued circulars to keep medical camps and food packets at every railway station and bus stand. Mamata Banerjee controls the police and the administration. It has turned it into a government programme at once.”

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First published on: 21-07-2022 at 05:07:59 am

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