Kolkata: A week after they hosted BJP chief Amit Shah at their hut in northern Bengal, a couple of daily wagers have joined Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's party.
- Married couple hosted BJP chief Amit Shah for lunch
- Today, they joined Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress
- BJP alleges they were coerced; the couple says that's not true
Geeta and Raju Mahali were welcomed as members of the Trinamool Congress by the state's Tourism Minister, Gautam Deb.
When the BJP President toured the state last week, making clear his intent of wresting it from Ms Banerjee, he stopped at the Mahalis' home in Naxalbari where they served him an all-vegetarian meal on a banana leaf. Mr Shah sat cross-legged on the ground for the lunch and was filmed by reporters as Geeta Mahali took selfies with him.
Dilip Ghosh, the BJP state chief who attended the lunch, alleged the couple "was kidnapped and forced to join the Trinamool."
"They have joined of their own free will," rebutted Mr Deb, the minister who led the couple's induction today. "We were not threatened, offered money or anything. We like Mamata Banerjee and so we have joined Trinamool," said Geeta Mahali.
Last Tuesday, asked if she would provide Chief Minister Banerjee lunch as she had to the BJP chief, Geeta Mahali had thought hard for several minutes before saying, "Yes, why not? If she comes here."
The Mahalis disappeared yesterday. Locals thought they had gone to work: Raju paints houses, Geeta works in the fields.
But it turns out they had taken shelter at a Trinamool worker's home so that the BJP could not access them. Their two children, a son who studies in class 8 and a daughter who is about 11, are apparently at a relative's home.
The couple has been used to sharpen a political point: that as the BJP plots a bigger share of Bengal -a state where it has traditionally been a bit player - Ms Banerjee will push back to prove this is her turf. Both Mr Shah and she have hurled challenges at each other publicly. He has declared that alleged corruption amid her party's top leadership is one of the reasons why she will soon clock out in Bengal; she said in response that not only would she remain Bengal's choice but prove to be a formidable opponent in Delhi as well for the next general election.
But in a recent by-election, it was the BJP and not the Left that placed second to her party, emboldening Mr Shah to pronounce his party the main challenger in Bengal, a state that he has placed high on his to-get list.