West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday sought to reach out to the sizeable Sikh community in Bhabanipur constituency, from where she is contesting a by-poll later this month, saying she has supported the farmers’ movement and iterated her demand for withdrawal of the three farm laws adopted by the NDA.
Banerjee, who is contesting the September 30 by-poll to retain her position, paid a sudden visit to a Gurudwara in the area and interacted with the locals.
Wearing a scarf, the TMC boss offered her prayers and spoke to devotees and the priest.
“I share an excellent bonding with the brothers and sisters of the Sikh community. Even members of my family are regular visitors here. I have already extended my support to the farmer’s movement. We (TMC) have already demanded that these three farm laws be withdrawn. We won’t tolerate any injustice on farmers,” she said.
A metropolitan constituency with around two lakh voters, Bhabanipur is home to a large number of Gujaratis and Sikhs living alongside Bengalis.
The BJP had managed to take the lead in the assembly segment in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll as its non-Bengali voters plumped for it but failed to maintain its grip on the sizeable Sikh and Punjabi population in the 2021 assembly election following the farmers’ agitation in Punjab.
Leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), which is spearheading the farmer’s movement against the farm bills, had campaigned against BJP during the April-May assembly election in the state.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act and The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act are the three key legislations passed by Parliament in September 2020.
Farmer unions in Punjab and Haryana feel the laws will dismantle the minimum support price system as over time big corporates will dictate terms and farmers will end up getting less for their produce. The farmers fear that with the virtual disbanding of the mandi system, they will not get an assured price for their crops.
Banerjee, who is herself a resident of Bhabanipur, had won the seat twice in 2011 and 2016 but shifted to Nandigram, where the anti-farmland acquisition movement against the Left Front government had transformed her into a major political force in the volatile state, to dare her former protege and now a BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari on his home turf. Though Banerjee powered the TMC to a resounding win for a third straight term in office, she lost in Nandigram.
She now must win the Bhabanipur seat to ensure an unbroken stint as the chief minister.
Banerjee is required to win a seat in the state assembly by November 5 in conformity with the constitutional provisions to continue as chief minister. The Constitution allows a non-member of a state legislature or Parliament to continue in a ministerial position without getting elected only for six months.
After her defeat in Nandigram, state cabinet minister and TMC MLA from Bhabanipur Sovandeb Chattopadhyay vacated the seat to facilitate her return to the assembly from there.
Banerjee is pitted against BJP’s Priyanka Tibrewal and Left Front’s Srijib Biswas for the September 30 by-poll. Congress has decided not to field a candidate against her.
The votes will be counted on October 3. (PTI)