New Delhi: Abhishek Banerjee, the general secretary of Trinamool Congress, led a sit-in protest at Rajghat on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary demanding the release of funds for West Bengal from the central government. The protest will conclude today with a peaceful rally conducted by MGNREGA job card holders.
The Lok Sabha member, accompanied by party leaders including MPs, MLAs and state ministers who had arrived from West Bengal, paid tributes to Gandhi at the memorial and held the protest for two hours, sporting black armbands and displaying placards, after which they were escorted out by security personnel.
"They are scared that is why they are doing this... They talk about being a big party, but it is now visible that they are scared," Banerjee told media persons outside Rajghat before he and other TMC protesters were asked to clear the area.
The TMC lashed out at the central government for "stopping" it from holding a "peaceful protest" and alleged that the protesters were heckled and manhandled by the security personnel.
The BJP hit back accusing the TMC of committing theft of government funds. Union Minister Anurag Thakur alleged that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has sent her party leaders under a "corrupt and tainted" MP to stage the protest to divert the public attention from the "numerous scams" that took place in her state.
At a press conference, Thakur dismissed TMC's allegations that the state's funds were being withheld and claimed there was no shortage of money for the centrally-sponsored schemes in West Bengal.
The BJP also fielded its state leaders, including unit president Sukanta Majumdar, Union minister Subhas Sarkar and MP Locket Chatterjee, who accused TMC of doing a "drama" in Delhi.
Majumdar made light of Abhishek Banerjee's charge that the BJP has been trying to scuttle his party's protests, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not that idle to target a "petty leader" such as the TMC's heir apparent.
Abhishek Banerjee later visited Lal Bahadur Shastri's memorial Vijay Ghat and paid tributes to the former prime minister on his birth anniversary.
At Gandhi's samadhi, Banerjee held a placard demanding that the Centre "release fund for Bengal". Another placard read 'Bengal Deprived: 1 lakh 15 thousand crore families, Rs. 15,000 crore owed'.
The ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal has accused the BJP-led NDA government of withholding Rs 15,000 crore in dues to the state under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and PM Awas Yojana.
The demonstration was held for about two hours, after which the TMC leaders were escorted out by security personnel. Banerjee addressed the media outside Raj Ghat but loudspeakers were used by police to ask the TMC leaders and supporters to move out of the area.
"Our leaders peacefully protesting for the rights of the people were abruptly asked to leave by the police. All Shri Abhishek Banerjee asked for was ten minutes, but was ungracefully refused. What is the BJP-led Central Government scared of?" the Trinamool Congress said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
They also shared a video of a police official asking the TMC leaders to leave. The party leaders alleged that derogatory remarks were made by an IPS officer about the peaceful protest and that women leaders were "manhandled" by police.
"It is deeply disheartening to witness such a lack of respect for the democratic process and the voices of the people under the BJP-led central government," Trinamool Congress said in a post on X.
"Raising our voice for people's rights is labelled as Tamasha. On Gandhi Jayanti, all we sought was a peaceful dharna for the betterment of our people. However, the anti-people BJP-led central government chose to silence us," the party alleged.
Speaking to the media before leaving the area, Banerjee said the BJP government is "scared". The TMC leaders and supporters will stage a protest at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday over the issue. The party claimed that over 50 lakh letters have been brought by the protesters from West Bengal that are addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the non-payment of dues.
TMC sources said letters will also be brought from BJP-ruled Assam, Goa, Tripura and Meghalaya highlighting alleged corruption in central schemes.
Biswajit Dev, a spokesperson of the Trinamool Congress and member of the party's state committee, accused the Centre of destroying the rural employment scheme MGNREGA and said it's an insult to Mahatma Gandhi, after whom the scheme has been named.
"Is this democracy? Centre is using schemes for political benefits," he alleged. "This is an insult to the poor people and to Mahatma Gandhi after whom MNREGA has been named," Dev told PTI.
TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee was scheduled to attend the programme in New Delhi, but is unlikely to do so as she has been advised ten days of rest by doctors after she suffered an injury in her left knee during a recent trip to Spain and Dubai.
The chief minister held a two-day sit-in in March this year against the Centre's alleged move of "not releasing funds" to the state for MGNREGA and other welfare schemes.
Union Minister Anurag Thakur targeted the TMC saying its leaders "have come to Delhi under the leadership of a tainted party MP, who himself is accused of several corruption charges and is currently under the investigation by the ED."
(with PTI inputs)