In his first public rallies after the presentation of the interim budget, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday hailed the budget as a “historic” step for small farmers and the middle class. Speaking in West Bengal, Modi asked the Trinamool Congress to back the citizenship amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha.
“Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Pather Panchali was not only adapted for masterpiece cinema [by Satyajit Ray], it also showed the picture of villages of Bengal with poverty and unemployment. Unfortunately, several decades after independence the picture remains unchanged in West Bengal. Our government in the last four and a half years has made an honest effort to alleviate their situation,” Modi said at public meeting organised by the All India Matua Mahasangha in Thakurnagar.
Thakurnagar, located about 60 km north east of Kolkata close to the Bangladesh border in North 24-Parganas district, is the nerve centre of the Namasudra (SC) Matua movement. “Yesterday, a historic step was taken for the first time for farmers and the middle class. Lakhs of farmers with small holdings will benefit, along with over 3 crore middle-income group people. Every year, Rs 6,000 will go directly into the accounts of farmers. They will get Rs 2,000 each in three instalments. There will be no syndicates, no touts, no middlemen… You will get the first instalment shortly,” Modi said.
Loan waivers announced by the Congress, on the other hand, were meant to only dupe farmers, he alleged. “In Madhya Pradesh, there were reports that those who had not taken loans were getting ‘waivers’, and in Rajasthan, the government expressed helplessness saying it had no idea the cost would be so high. In Karnataka, the Congress has been politicising this issue, and they have the full support of the TMC,” Modi said.
The citizenship Bill, the Prime Minister said, was intended to help people who had been victims of communalism when pre-independence India was broken up. “People belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Parsi and Jain communities fled from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Should they not be given citizenship here? That is why we have brought the citizenship amendment Bill… I want to ask the TMC to support it, so that it can be passed easily and people can get their rights,” Modi said.
In Durgapur in West Burdwan district, where he spoke later, Modi devoted around 25 minutes in his 45-minute speech to the interim budget, which he said was just the “trailer” — and the “full movie will come after the elections, when my government will come out with many such development projects”.
Modi apologised for the near-stampede that had occurred in the crowd in Thakurnagar earlier, which had forced him to cut short his speech. The crowd had broken the barricades, and over a dozen people, mostly women, were injured. They were treated at the venue itself.
“There was an incident in Thakurnagar today,” he said at the beginning of his speech. “A large number of people had assembled, which was beyond the capacity of the ground. I salute those who came to the rally, and I also express sympathy for them and apologise to them.”
Modi accused the TMC for imposing a “Trinamool tolabaaji (extortion) tax” on the people and demanded to know why Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was afraid to face investigating agencies and the “chowkidaar”.
“This is the first state which has imposed a tax on education. The TMC has imposed a ‘TTT’ tax, which means Trinamool Tolabaaji Tax. Every child in West Bengal is aware of this tax. Be it taking admission in colleges or transfer of teachers, people say everywhere you have to pay TTT tax,” Modi said.
Attacking the state government for withdrawing general consent to the CBI to conduct investigations, Modi said: “The only reason I am abused and cursed is because I am working against corruption and black money. This is the reason why they have become nervous and are stopping agencies in Bengal. Arey Didi, agar kuchh galat kiya nahi hai, toh itna darne ki kya zaroorat hai? Arey kis baat ka darr lag raha hai? (Didi, why are you scared if you have not done any wrong? What are you worried about?)”
On leaders of many Opposition parties appearing together on stage for the TMC’s recent rally, Modi said: “You have seen the kind of people who assembled at the Maidan recently and took a pledge to remove this chowkidaar. You can clearly see from the photographs how scared they were. There were people who were booked in cases while someone’s son and nephews are booked in cases. This is the reason they came to Kolkata. In the last four years, they could not stand each other, and would threaten to send each other to jail. They are now hugging each other.”
In the evening, Mamata hit back strongly, calling Modi a “leader of thieves”, and declared that those who “have blood on their hands have no authority to say such things”. “His time is up as his expiry date has passed. He has used agencies against Opposition parties, killed farmers, created riots in the name of cow protection, provided no jobs to the youth, killed police officers, destroyed the economy with note ban, and tried to silence the people. He is arrogant and not ready to accept that he will have to leave the (Prime Minister’s) chair. Those who have blood on their hands for creating riots in Gujarat cannot lecture others on democracy. He is the leader of all thieves,” Mamata said.
She also said her party would not support the citizenship amendment Bill in Parliament. “The Centre will have to withdraw the Bill. There is no question of supporting it. We will oppose it. We will not let him (Modi) succeed.”