West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday accused the BJP of trying to buy Trinamool workers and MLAs with threats of arrest and offers of money ranging from Rs 30 lakh to a couple of crores.
"Arrest me if you want. I will fight elections from inside the jail and win West Bengal," Mamata Banerjee said at a rally at Bankura, launching as it were, her election campaign for next year's assembly polls. Officially, it was a Trinamool rally of the Bankura district only. But just 20 days ago, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had launched the BJP's campaign for Bengal and the coincidence was hard to miss.
"They are offering money, telling Trinamool workers, we will give you Rs 2 crore, join us, telling MLAs, we will give you 15 lakh now, 15 lakh later if you join. Is this a political party? They are a disgrace," she said, adding, "The threat is, either stay at home (don't work for TMC) or get arrested. So, some people are afraid and succumbing."
"If you are Trinamool worker you have to be self-sacrificing and not greedy like the CPM or fond of the good life like BJP workers," Ms Banerjee said.
The BJP has reacted sharply to Mamata Banerjee's claims.
"Those who have stolen people's money, built three storey houses, and go around in new clothes and necklaces, how have they now become self-sacrificing?" BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh mocked.
"And why so she worried about going to jail now? That's because the chit fund scam details are coming out. She will not go to jail alone, her brothers will also go with her," he said.
Dilip Ghosh dismissed the charge of buying Trinamool MLAs. "Trinamool MLAs have a lot of money. So, there is no question of enticing them with some offers. People know BJP is coming to power. If anyone wants to take part in our government, we will take him along. No question of enticing them. They are leaving official posts and the chance to earn money to join our party. Mamata is unable to retain them as they no longer have any faith in her."
At the Bankura rally, Mamata Banerjee also addressed the problem of taking on three political rivals ranged against her - BJP, CPM and the Congress - and revealed strategy against at least two of them.
She bracketed the BJP and the Congress and warned that "the old CPM is now the new BJP", tapping into the voters' rejection of the CPM-led government in Bengal in 2011.
"In 2011 we had brought Parivartan in Bengal and thrown out the CPM that had tortured and killed people in Jungle Mahal (the area that includes Bankura district)," she said. "Now CPM musclemen have become the BJP musclemen. Only the colour has changed. At heart they are the same."
The Trinamool Congress supremo also announced she was taking control of the party from now on. "Just as I run the government with full responsibility, I will now run the party. I was under a lot of pressure at work and had allowed some slack in running the party. But no more," she said. "I am the observer for the whole party everywhere and I am keeping account of who is meeting whom and who is doing what. I am the observer for 294 seats."
This was an acknowledgement of minor rebellions within the party. Some Trinamool MLAs in North Bengal seem poised to switch to BJP and a question mark is still hanging over senior Trinamool minister and organisational leader Suvendu Adhikari.
The minister has been skipping party and cabinet meetings for months and making statements about the party that are open to interpretation. Some senior Trinamool leaders are in talks with him but even today one of his aides in his home district East Midnapore joined the BJP in the presence of national general Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya.
Mr Adhikari also used to be the observer for Bankura at one time. Now Mamata Banerjee has taken over the task.
Undaunted by these thorny issues, Mamata Banerjee launched a scathing attack on the BJP. Home Minister Amit Shah drew flak for allegedly "cheating" the Dalits and Adivasis of Bankura. On 5th, Mr Shah had lunch at a Dalit home at a village in Bankura. Ms Banerjee claimed the Home Minister got food from the five star hotel where he was staying - basmati rice and "posto bora" - and ate it sitting in that house.
"He cheated the adivasis just for photo opportunities. This is a party that is a dustbin of lies," Ms Banerjee said.
Accusing the BJP of triggering a price rise of basic goods in the country, she said, "The BJP is a curse upon this country. The biggest curse. They must be tackled. All people must unite against them."
"In 2011, we did parivartan and threw out the CPM from Bengal in 2011. In 2021, we want to give the BJP across the country a shock," she said.