The flags were dazzling red and the half-a-million faces in the crowd were eager and determined. But the white dhoti-kurta clad gentlemen sermonising from the 50-feet high podium — so that the last man at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground can see his leaders — were a let down in Sunday’s rally.
They were tired men of indeterminate ages, who lost one battle after another after a safe and secured three-and-a-half decades of rule. They had their day in the sun, but haven’t prepared for the cold winter days under the TMC regime.
Leaders of the CPI(M) and its 11 Left Front partners came to the microphone with clockwork precision, but said everything other than what the crowd wanted to hear. No call to arms, not even a strategy to fight the aggression of Mamata Banerjee.
Instead, there was a whiff of antagonism in the air by the time the last speaker, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, walked to the microphone. The reason: His speech at a party workers’ meeting in West Midnapore a few days ago, admitting that the killing of nine people at Netai, a remote village in the district, in January 2011 was done by his partymen.
But there are still some traces of the discipline that the CPI(M) once used to boast of. No one raised the issue. Instead, Sekhar Das, a volunteer managing the crowd, said, “I was expecting at least Buddhadeb babu to be more attacking. We didn’t get any special message that could enthuse the demoralised party workers at this hour.”
What still ails the Left Front is the brazen dominance of the CPI(M). But with the CPI(M) weakened and its leaders directionless, tongues are wagging. “How much do you think 15 speakers from 11 parties can deliver in a little more than two hours? Some speakers from the smaller parties were not allotted even five minutes,” said a rather anguished CPI leader.
CPI(M) state secretariat member Rabin Deb said, “The total time was proportionately divided and every speaker highlighted a specific issue. For example, (CPI (M) general secretary) Prakash Karat highlighted national issues while (state opposition leader) Surya Kanta Mishra focused on Bengal.”
Bhattacharjee, however, was the star attraction of the show. That he didn’t get enough time to make his mark was scoffed at a day later by one of his senior comrades in Alimuddin Street. “Bhattacharjee rarely speaks for more than 20 minutes these days. On Sunday, he took 19 minutes.” So, if he wanted to deliver a blow to the Mamata government, he could have done it. But criticism for being too introspective possibly cast a shadow on his spirit.