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4 May 2017

Shah hosts join TMC, BJP alleges coercion - Couple want to be part of CM's development drive: Deb

Geeta Mahali with Amit Shah at her home on April 25; (below) she and her husband Raju with Deb in Naxalbari on Wednesday. Pictures by PTI and Passang Yolmo
BIRESWAR BANERJEE & AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Naxalbari, May 3: The tribal couple who had hosted Amit Shah at their home in a Naxalbari village on April 25 joined the Trinamul Congress today in what looked like a coup by the ruling party in the state amid allegations from the BJP that the duo were coerced into switching their allegiance to Trinamul.
Tourism minister Gautam Deb, who handed over Trinamul flags to Raju and Geeta Mahali, said their induction indicated that the economically marginalised people were joining the party to be a part of Mamata Banerjee's development drive across Bengal.
"They wanted to join Trinamul. It was a spontaneous decision and we welcomed them," said Deb, wearing a broad grin.
On April 25, the BJP national president, Shah, had taken lunch at the hut of the Mahali family in South Kotiajote village, Naxalbari.
Deb read out a declaration, bearing the couple's signatures, that claimed they were joining Trinamul not under pressure and had not been lured with any proposition or money. " Humko achha laga, iss liye Trinamul me aya," (I like Trinamul and that's why we joined the party)," Raju said briefly, before he was whisked away by Trinamul workers.
Later, Geeta served tea to Deb at her home, while Trinamul supporters waited outside.
Since last evening, the couple and their two daughters had not been seen at their hut. "BJP leaders demonstrated before Naxalbari police station, saying the couple had been abducted by Trinamul for hosting our party president. But the police did nothing," Abhijit Roy Chowdhury, a general secretary of the BJP's Siliguri (organisational) district, said.
Deb sought to refute the charges. "I have welcomed them to the party. Once the civic polls in the hills are over, I will visit here again and chalk out plans on how people like them can work for Trinamul and contribute to the state's development."
BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said in Calcutta that the couple were abducted and forced to join Trinamul. "We want the chief minister to issue a statement within six hours as to how this can happen in the state. Deb should be removed from the state cabinet as well as from all the posts he holds in Trinamul."
Trinamul said the couple joining the party would send a clear message to the BJP. "The BJP is planning to build bases at booth levels through mass contact. But we will not let that happen so easily," said a Trinamul leader.
But Sinha said the move had eventually helped the BJP. "People can well understand Trinamul is even resorting to abduction to prevent us," he added.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SANDIP CHOWDHURY IN CALCUTTA

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