On the day his principal political adversary staged a padayatra in the city, sending out yet another message of her rising stocks to the rival camp, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sought to be up close and personal with a group of students at Dinabandhu Andrews College in Garia.
Taking time out of his administrative chores, Bhattacharjee fielded a volley of uncomfortable questions ranging from the state's empty coffers to the Left's anti-poor image.
More than 300 students grilled Bhattacharjee for an hour on a sticky Thursday evening. The chief minister felt the heat quite literally and asked the volunteers of the SFI, the CPI(M) students' wing and the organisers of the event, to arrange for a fan on stage.
Even as he appeared exhausted, Bhattacharjee sat through the candid interaction and answered all the questions with patience. Dipannita Sinha, a student of Vidyasagar College, fired what was arguably the most uncomfortable question of the evening. Hinting at Manish Gupta, a former chief secretary of the Left Front government who has been fielded on a Trinamool Congress ticket against Bhattacharjee from the Jadavpur Assembly seat, Sinha asked why bureaucrats who had been at the helm of affairs of the Left-run government in the past, are now contesting against the party. While her question was tough enough, she made it pricklier for the chief minister by thanking him for taking time out for the interactive session in such "difficult times".
"There are thousands of bureaucrats who have worked with the Left Front government. Most have done their job in line with the constitutional norms and are leading a happy retired life. However, there are exceptions. People can see everything and would give their answers come the elections," said Bhattacharjee.
Ritam Shah, a student of Andrews College, sought to know why Left supporters are saying that Mamata Banerjee is more Leftist than the current Left Front. Without taking any names, Bhattacharjee said, "Are you sure these people actually believe in the Left philosophy? If so, they would have known that the name has no relation with the Leftist philosophy and if fact represents the violent means of the West."
Even before the applause could die down, a student from Jadavpur University shot another tricky poser. "The Left Front says it stands for the poor, then why have we seen the poor people turning against the Left in the last two polls?"
Not shying away from owning up to mistakes, Bhattacharjee said, "We realised even before the last two elections that some pockets of both rural and urban Bengal poor people were drifting away from us. We have taken several steps and have been rectifying our mistakes. However, the process in still on and people will soon realise that we are the only party standing by the poor, the rest are with them for political gains."
Replying to another query, the chief minister accepted that the government schemes meant for the poor have not reached the interiors of Bengal. "There were some shortcomings. But we are trying to improve the logistics and ensure better times."