One leader walked for six kms without a break in Howrah, moving with sprightly steps and smiling, waving at the crowd. The other, also on a ‘padayatra’ in his own constituency in Jadavpur on Sunday, hardly came down from his vehicle, in spite of commanding an almost equally impressive turnout as his opponent on foot in Howrah.
While the leader in Howrah had a virtual sea of frenzied followers walking with her, the one in Jadavpur had more discipline on display. Walking within an hour of each other, the difference between Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could not have been sharper on Saturday.
“I have not seen such frenzy in Howrah ever,” said Sudhangshu Bhattacharjee, a Congress supporter from Shibpur who claimed to have attended all of Didi’s rally in Howrah.
As she moved through G T Road, people of all ages lined the streets, rooftops and balconies and showered petals and garlands at the leader. On the ground frenzy flowed through the streets with a threat of a stampede always alive. As the crowd moved forward some fell in drains and some lost their spectacles and slippers. But none really cared as Mamata led them like a Pied Piper.
In contrast, Bhattacharjee’s ‘padayatra’ was a show of discipline. Supporters waved thousands of red flags and walked mostly in parallel files. Not for a moment did the crowd go out of control. Bhattacharjee smiled confidently and bent down to touch a few of the many hands extended towards him.
It was supposed to be the chief minister’s first padayatra; but Mamata had already conducted five such campaigns in Kolkata, covering a total distance of more than 40 kms.
The 56 year old leader is known to walk briskly. Everyday she devotes some time on a treadmill at home, and on Saturday her steps on the dusty roads of the industrial town bore the mark of a seasoned and untiring walker.
Bhattacharjee, about 10 years senior to her and known to have a compulsive weakness for cigarettes, perhaps could not risk an eight km walk and boarded a light commercial vehicle instead.
As he got into the vehicle, the crowd shouted and clapped, but it failed to turn into a frenzied roar that her opponent elicited from her sea of followers.
In contrast Mamata walked like a storm. A shapeless mass of humans followed the leader, with security men struggling to throw a protective human shield around her.
The crowd wanted to get near, almost in an impatient surge to touch the revolution she has signaled in the garb of an innocent word, 'parivartan'.
On April 3, the Trinamool chief had staged a padayatra through the same road through which Bhattacharjee moved on Saturday. “We have a bigger crowd today,” said Ratan Sengupta, a trader of Jadavpur.
“Our citizens are politically conscious. The streets today prove it,” claimed Bhattacharjee from his position on top of his vehicle to a television channel.
In Howrah, even if Mamata had something to say, her voice was drowned in the constant roar that followed her.