West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Saturday took out a protest rally in the city against the Hathras alleged gangrape case and launched a scathing attack against the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power in Uttar Pradesh, calling it the "biggest pandemic" torturing Dalits the most and running a "dictatorship" in the country.
Banerjee said she would stand by the Dalit community till the end as her caste is "humanity" and she does not believe in differentiation on the grounds of caste and religion.
The rally, the first by the fiesty Trinamool Congress supremo since March when the nationwide lockdown was declared to break the coronavirus infection chain, covered the 2 km distance between Birla Planetarium to Gandhi statue on Mayo Road in Kolkata.
Sharpening her attack, Banerjee, who has been a strident critics of BJP, said, "COVID-19 is not a big pandemic. BJP is the biggest pandemic. It is the biggest pandemic of atrocities against Dalit and backward
"We should stand up against these atrocities... The kind of atrocities that are taking place is completely unacceptable. The kisan samaj, youth, students, minorities, Dalits are being pushed towards darkness, but we will lead them towards the light," she said, addressing the rally.
Continuing her tirade against the saffron camp, Banerjee said, "The country is going through super autocracy as democracy has been murdered by BJP.
"Dictatorship is going on across the country. Instead of government for the people, it is running a government against the people, the Dalits and the farmers. This is super autocracy," she said.
Referring to the TMC delegation being stopped by the Uttar Pradesh police from meeting the victim's family at Hathras on Friday, Banerjee said she felt like "running to UP and standing by the family of the victims".
She said, "My heart is in Hathras. I feel like running to that village and standing by the Dalit family in their fight against injustice. Our representatives went to Hathras but were stopped a km from the village.
The women members were beaten, even journalists. It has come to my notice that journalists are receiving threats since yesterday," she said.
Banerjee said she wanted to speak to the victim's family but was told that their phones were taken away.
"How long will you (UP govt) stop us from reaching out to them? The Dalit girl is like my own. Either today or tomorrow, we will reach there," she said.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh had on Friday asked TMC to stop politicising the death of the Hathras woman and instead take a look at its track record in tackling crimes against women.
In an oblique reference to Union Home Minister Amit Shah having lunch at the house of Dalit families in Bengal in 2018 befor the Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee said BJP leaders do so during elections.
BJP leaders go to houses of Dalits and have food brought from outside. "After the polls are over, they perpetrate acts of cruelty on the Dalits and backward community," she alleged.
"A criminal offence can happen anywhere and we condemn it regardless of where it takes place. But people expect justice when these things happen. But what happened there (Hathras)? Without giving the woman's body to the family, police burnt it."
Hitting out at the Centre for allegedly failing to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, Banerjee said it seemed that the "community spread of the disease" has begun as people who do not venture out and stay in a protective atmosphere are also getting infected.
"We (TMC govt) were lectured about what to do to tackle COVID-19. But what are they (the Centre) doing? It seems that the community spread of the pandemic has started," she said.
Raking up the issue of GST compensation, she criticised the Centre for not releasing the money and said, "It is a strategy of BJP to rake up a warlike situation before the polls and sell PSUs like BSNL and Air India after the elections."
Photographs: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI Photos