Election campaign took a backseat in several parts of Bengal and came to standstill in Kolkata on Thursday as senior leaders of all political parties rushed to the accident site near Girish Park.
While chief minister Mamata Banerjee flew back to Kolkata from West Midnapore, where she was to address three public meetings, state Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury and senior party leader Somen Mitra, along with CPI(M) MP and politburo member Mohammad Salim, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha and state BJP’s women’s wing chief, Roopa Ganguly, trooped to the site, cancelling their schedules for the day. Youth affairs minister Arup Biswas and city mayor Sovan Chatterjee also visited the site where horror kept unfolding frame by frame till late into the night.
The chief minister said, “The guilty will get the strictest possible punishment. We have cancelled all our election meetings.” Most Trinamool leaders and ministers in the city were asked by Mamata to focus on rescue operations.
Union minister and senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who was to release the BJP’s election manifesto in Kolkata during the day, also cancelled his programme and visited a hospital where the injured were being treated. “This is a clear case of corruption. There should be a CBI probe,” Naqvi said. “The state government did not even contact us to seek help. We contacted them to help in the rescue operations,” he said.
CPI(M) MP Salim, who was campaigning in north Kolkata, reached the spot within an hour but refrained from making any comment. Fire and disaster management minister Javed Khan was late to reach the site and faced public ire over delay in starting rescue operations. Congress leader Chowdhury visited the spot as well as the hospitals. “Our supporters will donate blood,” he said.
In the districts, however, election campaign continued at some places. Union home minister Rajnath Singh attended the rallies he was to address in Burdwan and Purulia but kept in touch with top officials of various central forces to remain briefed about the pace of the rescue operation.
The day started in the usual way, with poll campaign gradually gathering pace. But the scene changed drastically after 12:30pm as news started trickling in about the unprecedented disaster.