The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleged on Saturday that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee dialled one of its leaders in East Midnapore district to ask for his help in the ongoing assembly elections, even as the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) made light of the charge.
The BJP also released what it claimed to be an audio clip of a purported conversation between Banerjee and Pralay Pal, the BJP vice-president in the politically crucial East Midnapore.
The TMC’s counter was swift. It had two arguments: that there are doubts over the authenticity of the clip, and that even if Banerjee called Pal, a former TMC worker, she did nothing wrong.
The controversy came on the first day of the eight-phase polling in the state with the BJP stressing that Banerjee’s alleged phone call indicated that she was on the back foot in the high-profile Nandigram seat, which is in East Midnapore.
The district is considered a TMC fortress, while the BJP hopes that Banerjee’s aide-turned challenger Suvendu Adhikari will tilt the scale in its favour. Adhikari, who quit the TMC in December and joined the BJP, will contest against the CM from Nandigram, which votes in the second phase of the elections on April 1.
In the controversial audio clip, Banerjee could be heard purportedly telling Pal, “You are a young and active worker… you work for us… there won’t be any problem…” News18 could not independently verify the authenticity of the clip.
In his reply, Pal purportedly extended his “gratitude” to Banerjee for getting a call from a “person like you”. But Pal added, according to the audio, that he could not betray the Adhikaris, a reference to Suvendu Adhikari’s family, who protected him, and others like him, from workers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPI(M), in the past.
Next in the purported conversation, Banerjee was claimed to have said, “I know, but it was not our fault. I was not allowed to enter by the zamindar (believed to be a reference to Suvendu Adhikari) here. They used to rescue or help you from the CPI(M) as TMC workers, not as BJP workers. I used to protect you all from the CPI(M). They joined the BJP. Do you think that they are honest? All I want to say..please reconsider my proposal (to work for the TMC in East Midnapore).”
Later, Pal released a video clip, in which he reiterated that Banerjee called him and “asked for my help”, but he told her that he had “decided to work for the BJP”.
TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh downplayed the matter. “First of all, I don’t know about the authenticity of the audio clip. But even if it turns out to be a genuine audio clip in future, then also I personally believe that she has done nothing wrong in calling up a former TMC worker. She can always call her former party workers and seek his or her help.”
TMC parliamentarian Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said, “I don’t want to comment much on the matter. All I can say is that it (the audio clip) is the production of the BJP’s misinformation factory.”
CPI(M) legislator Sujan Chakraborty too said Banerjee may have done nothing wrong by calling a former party worker. “But my point is she cannot say that she was unaware about the ground situation… on why people left TMC,” he added.
On the other hand, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said Banerjee dialled Pal because “she knew that she was going to lose the Nandigram seat”. “She is on the back foot and therefore she is requesting people to help her,” he said.
The BJP’s Bengal unit tweeted that “fear is evident” in the CM’s phone call to Pal.