New Delhi: Widespread protests across Kolkata and in some parts of Bengal over the mismanagement of the crisis left behind by Cyclone Amphan have led to a major political storm brewing within the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Some senior TMC leaders and many MLAs from the ruling TMC have shared their displeasure with the way the Mamata Banerjee-led government has been handling the aftermath of the cyclone.
Some senior leaders and Mamata Banerjee’s close aides have directly attacked the TMC-ruled Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), for failing to do its job. Many parts of Kolkata were left without power and drinking water for over six days after the cyclone struck the city.
Mamata Banerjee’s Cabinet Minister, Sadhan Pande even called for the resignation of the TMC-run Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s Mayor and now Chairman, Board of Administrators, Firhad Hakim for “lack of planning” to deal with the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan.
In a scathing attack on Firhad Hakim, Pande said that the KMC did not do anything for the residents of Kolkata and that despite being warned by the Meteorological (Met) Department five days ahead of the cyclone, the city corporation could not manage to remove the trees that fell on the roads of Kolkata even five days after the cyclone passed.
“It is unfortunate that the KMC was not prepared to deal with the aftermath of the cyclone. There are 140 wards in Kolkata and the KMC has only 25 tree cutters; why did the KMC not get adequate cutters when they knew that such a cyclone was going to hit the state? The Met Department had issued warnings at least five days before the cyclone was to hit the state,” said Pande, who is MLA from the Maniktala constituency in Kolkata.
Pande also further questioned Firhad Hakim for not calling all the MLAs of Kolkata to discuss the problems being faced by the people of the city.
Another senior TMC leader and MLA from Kolkata, who did not wish to be named, told this correspondent that he was upset with the way the situation following Cyclone Amphan was being handled in the city by the KMC and “their associates”.
The TMC MLA said, “The KMC chairman should resign immediately if he is not able to handle the situation. Why would people of Kolkata have to stay without electricity and water for days? Trees that had fallen on the roads, could not be removed for days. Passing the buck every time will not help. People are angry and we are answerable to the people. The KMC and its Board did not even call us for a meeting pre- or post Amphan.”
Firhad Hakim said that the KMC was doing its best and that he was not a magician who could remove 5,000 fallen trees in hours or just one day.
Hakim also attacked Pande for his comment, and said, “He (Pande) is sick and we cannot give weight to his comments. If he was so concerned about Kolkata, why did he not come to the KMC and meet me? Why was he at home?”
Hitting back at the criticism from TMC MLAs and ministers, another TMC MLA from Beleghata, Paresh Paul, said that he would take out a massive rally against Sadhan Pande and all TMC MLAs who were criticising the government in this hour of crisis.
However, residents of Kolkata, who were left to fend for themselves for days after the KMC failed to restore power connections, water supply and remove huge trees from the roads, are angry. This also led to massive protests across the state capital. Angry residents blocked roads and some took it upon themselves to remove the huge trees from their residential colonies. Indian Army was also roped in by the West Bengal government to remove the trees from the streets of Kolkata.
Not just in Kolkata, but also in the interiors, especially in districts such as North and South 24 Parganas, electricity connection is still to be restored, while some places are yet to receive the basic help from the government. Several MLAs are facing the anger of the residents, as the affected residents are blaming the state government for failing to provide the basic necessities on time.
Reports of tarpaulin shortage for those who have lost their homes and lack of food have also caused a lot of anger.
Some TMC MLAs are saying that they are feeling helpless at this moment as responses from the state government are not encouraging for them.
A TMC MLA from North 24 Parganas district told The Sunday Guardian, “I have spoken to my seniors in government. They are saying that they do not have much money to provide immediate relief to the poor. They (government officials) are saying that they are doing their best, but on the ground, people are really helpless, they do not even have water to drink, leave alone electricity. People are angry. I feel that the government should have been better prepared.”
Another TMC MLA from South 24 Parganas district said, “I have told the Chief Minister what all we need, but very little help has reached us. The District Magistrate is not available all the time. People are coming to us, but who do we go to? Our district is the worst affected, people do not have any drinking water, and the authorities say they have no money to install tubewells. So what do we do? Let the people die? Who will vote for the party if the government cannot be by their side at the time of crisis?”
In fact protests are going on in several parts of Bengal, demanding electricity, drinking water and houses.
Reports of fights among the TMC cadre are also coming from many parts of Bengal over the distribution of relief material. For example, in Bagdah Assembly in North 24 Parganas, an internal feud has broken out between two factions of the TMC over distribution of tarpaulin.
Political observers say that just ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections, the crisis could cost TMC power. Several MLAs who are unhappy with the government are likely to either leave the party or join its strongest opponents once the elections approach.