About 300,000 people came to the Left Front rally in Kolkata on Monday afternoon. The Front’s target was about 600,000, the figure the Trinamool Congress had posted at its July 21 rally.
And the crowd started leaving as soon as West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee finished his speech. By the time Front chairman Biman Bose left the dais, a sizeable section of the cadre of the main Front constituent, CPI(M), were missing.
Despite the hype the CPI(M) had built up over a month, Asit Das, a local shop owner, said, “More people gathered here on July 21 when Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress chief) addressed a rally to commemorate the death of 13 Youth Congress workers who fell to police bullets in 1993.”
Das, who stood in the sun for two hours to listen to Bhattacharjee, said, “Both the parties intended to pay homage to martyrs, but there was a noticeable difference in spirit.”
The Left Front organised the rally to commemorate 50 years of Food Movement. On August 31 in 1959, about 300,000 hungry villagers led by the undivided Communist Party of India broke police barricades.
About 80 people died and hundreds were injured in police firing, ordered by the day’s Congress government led by Bidhan Chandra Roy.
Monday’s rally showed that in 50 years, it was not just the Kolkata skyline that had changed, the leaders and the led had also changed perceptibly.
While Left supporters from faraway villages waited for their leaders to talk about the misguided policies and decisions of the recent past and announce some movements to restore their morale, all they got to hear was criticism of Banerjee and the Congress.
Condemning the Opposition as “evil”, “fascist” and “terrorist”, Buddhadeb said, “Their only task is to murder innocent people in collaboration with the Maoists and unleash a resign of terror across Bengal.”
He said, “I appeal to the young generation to stand up and foil this design. That should be our mission.”
Biman Bose conducted the proceedings and kept mocking the Opposition for questioning the size of the crowd, but he, too, stayed away from any kind of self-criticism.
He did, however, blame the UPA for food shortage arising out of the drought across India and read out a 30-point charter of demand. But by that time, his audience was already on their way home.