Mamata Banerjee takes on Narendra Modi, emerges as new face of opposition to demonetisation

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continued to stay put at the state secretariat on Friday protesting against army presence at toll plazas in several parts of the state and asked whether it was an "army coup".

Speaking to reporters late Thursday night at 'Nabanna', the state secretariat, she said, "I will stay at the secretariat to guard our democracy". "Is this a military coup?" she asked.

She said that army personnel were there in different districts like Murshidabad, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, North 24 Paraganas, Burdwan, Howrah, Hooghly etc. "The army is deployed without informing the state government. This is unprecedented and a very serious matter," she had said.

Earlier, aviation regulator DGCA has ordered an inquiry into as many as three flights, including one carrying Banerjee, reporting low fuel at the same time, as TMC and other opposition parties alleged conspiracy and a threat to her life.

File image of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

File image of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

Alleging a threat to the life of Banerjee, TMC leader in Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandopadhyay said the government should rise to the occasion and find out whether there was a conspiracy.

These are the latest in a string of accusations and protests by the West Bengal chief minister who is now at the forefront of the anti-demonetisation campaign.

On 8 November, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a ban on currency notes of Rs 500 and 1000, opposition parties quickly jumped on the opportunity and organised a protest in and outside the Parliament which kicked off with its Winter session.

But as the protests grew, it was not Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal who took the centre-stage.

Fresh off the by-polls where Trinamool Congress registered a massive victory in the by-election to two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly segment, Banerjee hailed the mandate as "people's revolt" against demonetisation.

"The by-election result is a befitting reply against the anti-people demonetisation by the Centre. It's a people's revolt, rather than a mass revolt against the centre. BJP should take lessons from this mandate," she said before leaving for New Delhi to join the protest rally by the Opposition.

And once in the capital, in a show of strength, Banerjee, backed by JD(U), SP, NCP and AAP, held a demonstration and ramped up attack on Prime Minister Modi, alleging the country was not safe in his hands.

Addressing the gathering at Jantar Mantar, Banerjee alleged that abolition of high-value currency notes had heaped pain on people and snatched away democratic rights of almost every section of the society including farmers, youth, women, labourers and traders, besides halting the country's economic growth.

Accusing the BJP-led dispensation of "looting" the common man, she wondered why those having Swiss bank accounts were "not touched at all", and warned that people will teach a "good lesson" to the ruling party in the upcoming assembly polls for implementing a "black law".

A week before this, Banerjee had addressed a rally against demonetisation along with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

After protests came prime minister's 'Mann ki Baat', and once again Banerjee stepped into the limelight.

In a stinging attack on the prime minister, Banerjee said his radio programme was a "misuse" of the government machinery as it has now become 'Modi ki Baat'.

"Modiji, you have finished India's economy and growth. We don't trust you or your mismatched wrong technology which you are advertising for. We want technology and progress. But no section of society is to be left out and tortured while doing this [demonetisation]," Banerjee said in a statement.

But for the prime minister, Banerjee had more in mind than just a statement.

Banerjee went ahead and threatened to demonstrate outside Modi's residence against demonetisation, vowing to dislodge him from the seat of power if the scrapping of high-value currency notes is not withdrawn.

"The entire country is suffering. There is no money in banks, ATMs. So far 80 people have died due to the hardships caused by demonetisation. But Modi is having a sound sleep and giving lectures on taking the country towards cashless economy," she said after her protest march, this time back home in Kolkata.

Continuing her tirade against Modi, Banerjee said she would fight till the end against the "anti-people" decision which has imposed an "undeclared financial emergency" in the country.

Banerjee next took her protest to Uttar Pradesh. In Lucknow, charging the prime minister with flouting the constitutional rights of people by bringing in demonetisation, she dared him to declare his bank account details.

"Modiji has surpassed (Muhammad bin) Tughlaq and Hitler... he has flouted the Constitutional rights of common people," Banerjee said at a rally organised jointly with the ruling Samajwadi Party. Vowing to fight till demonetisation is rolled back, Banerjee said, "The fight against note ban will continue till this decision is revoked as note culling has shut shops, markets and agricultural operations."

Up next, Patna. Here, the TMC chief said the prime minister has imposed a "super-emergency" in the country by demonetising Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.

The West Bengal chief minister was accompanied by her party leaders and leaders from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

As the protests gain more ground with each passing day, Banerjee seems to be getting increasingly comfortable in the shoes of the opposition on the national stage.

Taking Modi head on and stepping up the dramatics around her, it is difficult not to connect this building narrative to the upcoming assembly elections in 2019 in the light of the absence of a strong Opposition to the current government.

But much can change in the two years. For now, Banerjee is firmly standing her ground and increasingly directing the narrative against the Modi government.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Dec 02, 2016 12:43 PM

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