Mamata vs Modi: No stadium for Gujarat CM's meeting in Kolkata

Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has tried to put a spanner in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to reach out to a larger audience in Kolkata. The BJP alleges that it was at her behest that the party was refused booking at Netaji indoor stadium in the state capital even though it was initially confirmed to them.

Modi and his party are, however, not taking it lying down and are going ahead with his scheduled visit on 9 April. They will have to manage with a venue much smaller in size though. The consolation for them is that the new venue, Mahajati Sadan, has some historical significance and could give an additional talking point to the organizers.

Since the Panchayat elections in West Bengal have been notified, no party is allowed to hold an outdoor public rally till the two-phase polling takes place on 26 and 30 April. Modi thus could not have addressed an outdoor public meeting. The state BJP leaders were greatly enthused by Modi’s visit to Kolkata to address a joint session of three chambers of industry and commerce of the state. They thought it prudent to utilize the occasion to the party’s benefit. Modi, too, liked the idea.

At loggerheads. AFP

At loggerheads. AFP

Kolkata visit is part of Modi’s outreach plan. He wants to talk about the Gujarat development model and impress upon the opinion makers that if it could work in his state it could work for the nation too. While the venue for the joint chambers meet is the five-star Oberoi Grand in Kolkata, the party looked for an indoor venue with bigger capacity where party workers and sympathizers could get a chance to hear the leader who they think could help them counter the Trinamool Congress, Left Front and Congress to whatever extent possible.

While the founder of Jan Sangh, erstwhile parent party of the BJP, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was from Kolkata, the party could never take off in West Bengal. The BJP in the state is desperate need of a morale booster and organizational recharge. Modi’s arrival in the city and agreeing to spend some time with party leaders was one such opportunity.

Netaji Indoor stadium with a capacity of 15,000 came as the obvious choice. A group of BJP leaders, including central Prabhari (in-charge) for the state party affairs Sidharthnath Singh went to the stadium and met the administrative heads. After going through their register and online entry, the stadium administration confirmed that they could book the place for 9 April and asked them to deposit money for the purpose next day. But when they went there next day to deposit the money and take the confirmation receipt, they were told that they couldn’t get it because it was already booked a year in advance by some local businessman.

Sidharthnath Singh is crying foul against Mamata Banerjee. "It is unfortunate that the most popular chief minister of India has been refused an indoor meeting by another chief minister. If this is the level of politics that we see, then it’s unworthy of democratic norms," Singh said.

The occasion was important for the party as it would have been the first big public meeting by Modi after his induction in the BJP's highest decision-making body, Parliamentary Board.