Sitting alone on a dharna in her wheelchair at Gandhi Murti in Kolkata without aides by her side and painting in a visibly sombre and reflective mood — this striking image of chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday seemed to be her party’s reinforcement of the perception that she is the lone ranger fighting the might of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and also taking on the Election Commission (EC).
The last time Banerjee sat on a dharna in central Kolkata was in February 2019, when she protested the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s attempts to question then Kolkata Police chief Rajeev Kumar, and said she wanted to save the Constitution and democracy. At that time, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders and aides were on stage with her, and she continued with her dharna for three days until the Supreme Court barred CBI from arresting Kumar. During Tuesday’s dharna, the image of a “fighter” seemed to have been juxtaposed with that of a “victim”.
No party colleague of Banerjee was there as she arrived at the venue around 11:45am to sit on a dharna in her wheelchair, about 50 meters from television cameras, in what seemed a deliberate TMC strategy to gain the maximum political mileage out of the 24-hour ban put on her by EC, and to show how a woman CM is alone taking on her adversaries.
She just had her mobile phone and her painting equipment for company. TMC leader Derek O’ Brien briefly visited the media enclosure, but did not offer any comments. It is expected that she would continue to sit at Gandhi Murti till 8pm, before proceeding for her two rallies on Tuesday night. TMC supporters came to the media enclosure to cheer up the CM, and criticised the EC action as well as the BJP.
The TMC’s entire campaign has focused on Banerjee’s face, and lately the injuries she suffered during campaigning in Nandigram, where she is fighting against her former colleague, Suvendu Adhikari. There has been a lot of debate on whether her wheelchair campaign would generate sympathy among her core women voter base.
The Sitalkuchi killings in the fourth phase of polling on April 10 and the latest 24-hour ban on Banerjee by EC are being seen as a political lifeline for the party at a time when the BJP is claiming it is way ahead in the battle for Bengal.
While her injury may have affected her USP of pacing up and down the stage, or walking into a village during the campaign, the TMC has tried to make up with events like that on Tuesday; the sit-in proved to be an effective strategy for a non-campaign day with the event being televised live widely.
Banerjee will escalate her campaign on Wednesday and visit Cooch Behar, where five people lost their lives in poll-related violence in Sitalkuchi. EC had stopped all political visits there for 72 hours, and that period ends on Tuesday night. And so does the 24-hour ban on Banerjee.
The CM will go to Mathabhanga sub-division hospital there and hold five rallies in Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Nadia on Wednesday. A BJP functionary, however, argued that the CM’s dharna will have little impact as she is hugely “unpopular” in the state and that the sympathy card is not working even after her injury and the wheelchair campaign.