Taking a leaf out of Mahatma Gandhi's book, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee walked all of seven kilometres on Thursday, wandering through five Assembly constituencies, large parts of which have an overwhelming minority presence.
A traditional Left Front vote bank, Muslims comprise 28% of Bengal's population, as well as 30% of its vote share. But, since 2008, they have been a crucial factor in Banerjee's victories in the panchayat, Lok Sabha and civic polls.
"We should walk slowly. They are all waiting for us. We should ask for their blessings," the Trinamool chief told her leaders while walking down the streets of Kolkata.
Banerjee walked through Rajabazar, Sealdah, Moulali, Entally, Mullickbazar, Park Circus and other minority-dominated areas. She even passed through such Assembly constituencies as Beliaghata, Chowringhee, Entally and Ballygunge.
Political observers said there had been a 10% swing in the Muslim vote bank in favour of Banerjee during the panchayat elections. Soon after, in the Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamool won all the nine seats in the North and South 24-Parganas, where Muslims account for a sizeable chunk of the votes. Even in the Kolkata (North) constituency, another erstwhile bastion of the Left, CPI(M) bigwig Mohd Selim lost by almost 100,000 votes and trailed in at least four Assembly constituencies where the minority vote mattered. The CPI(M) even lost two Lok Sabha seats in Howrah, which also has a huge minority population.
People from all walks of life waited patiently for hours to catch a glimpse of Banerjee as she passed by. While most waved, some even lunged forward to offer her roses. Rows of motorbikes and a stream of more than a thousand people waving flags and chanting anti-CPI(M) slogans turned up to show support for Banerjee, who had to be cordoned off by a human chain to shield her from the over-enthusiastic masses.
"I knew she was going to pass through our neighbourhood. So, my friends and I brought red roses for her. I've been waiting for more than an hour," said teenager Meherunissa, who took up position near the Alimuddin Street crossing, where the CPI(M)'s Bengal headquarters is located.
"Since 2008, Muslims have been with her The Sachar Commission report has revealed what the Left did to the minority community. Only 2% have government jobs," said Sultan Ahmed, minister of state for tourism.
Sometimes waving, sometimes greeting the crowds with folded hands, the Trinamool chief seemed a bundle of energy and charisma. "There's no tiredness on her face. She's like one of us… the common people. I remember how she helped Rizwanur's family," said Afran Bibi, who came to Entally with her sister to catch a glimpse of the Trinamool's talismanic leader. Indeed, many of her leaders, such as Subrata Mukherjee and Paresh Pal, chose to wave to the people from open jeeps, unlike the Trinamool chief, who walked the entire stretch.