Kolkata (Agency): The red flag fluttered in the spring breeze and giant cut-outs of the ‘sickle, hammer and star’ party symbol hovered on banners, as West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee set out on a maiden roadshow touching large parts of his Jadavpur constituency.
The traffic light at the Jadavpur police station crossing turned red and stopped the north-south traffic. It was a signal for the huge gathering to move, and the heavyweight Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidate from Jadavpur – where assembly polls will be held April 27 – started off a long eight-kilometre journey in the city’s southern outskirts on Saturday amid a roar of slogans.
Bhattacharjee stood on the back of a pick-up van flanked by veteran CPM leader Sujon Chakraborty and young gun Shatarup Ghosh, the candidate for the neighbouring Kasba constituency. The chief minister waved, smiled and shook hands with supporters amid frequent chants of “inquilab zindabad” and “comrade Bhattacharjee lal salaam.”
“I am overwhelmed at the large turnout and certain that nobody can prevent us from returning to power,” said Bhattacharjee, before starting off his roadshow near Jadavpur University.
As the chief minister’s convoy passed along university gates, hundreds of students frantically shouted upon seeing Ghosh, 25. “Here goes Shatarup da, our leader… he will surely win.” A beaming Ghosh returned the compliment by waving and flashing a smile.
“Did you attend Saturday’s roadshow,” a partyman asked his comrade. “You cannot imagine how many people there were.” That’s exactly what former mayor Bikash Bhattacharya, present at some of Sunday’s meetings, had to say as well: “We saw a people’s tsunami on the roads on Saturday.”
What impressed many at the meetings was Bhattacharjee’s candid admission of having “learnt it the hard way” in Singur (Singur’e ami thekey shikhechhi), adding with conviction the firm agenda he would adopt in future: “What the Opposition did in Singur, I will not let them repeat it in future.”
It drew a thunderous applause from hundreds attending the meeting at Nayabad bus stand in ward 109. “I thought we could resolve the (Singur) issue through discussions, but they (the opposition) caused a huge loss to the state,” Bhattacharjee said. He was quick to add that this could not stop industrialisation in the state and more investment kept trickling in.
“We have learnt a lot in the last 30 to 40 years, and we won’t have to start from scratch. We have to improve on what we have already done,” he said, reminding people of the opposition’s inexperience, and calling out to them to not bring in a change’ (poriborton) that he described as “dangerous” and not something that would make things better.
He chose to reach out to the people not as the chief minister, but as their local MLA, who had “tried his best to carry out his duties and ensure that there was water, good roads and so on”. The sarcasm in his voice could not be missed as he said: “This place is growing, also due to the railways.”
As Bhattacharjee’s brigade marched on, CPM supporters carrying the party flag chanted “akey akey agaro, baamfront abaro” (one and one make eleven, Left Front will come to power again – a reference to the 2011 assembly polls).
Unlike his rival Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Bhattacharjee preferred to stay atop his vehicle, but kept shaking hands with people. The vehicle would stop at times to enable him to receive bouquets from supporters.
During the entire stretch of eight kilometres, party flags were seen atop shops and lamp posts on both sides of the road. Thousands of people poured out on to the street to catch a glimpse of their leader. As the convoy passed by, people jostled to get a close look at Bhattacharjee.
As the convoy came closer, a teenager shouted at the top of his lungs “O jethu, o jethu aidikey (hey uncle, look this way),” waving his hands. Bhattacharjee waved back and the boy was overwhelmed. “If I could, I would have given a hundred votes to him,” he said.
With the roadshow reaching Bagha Jatin, the already swelling crowd became gigantic with people standing on rooftops and clambering on to anything they could put their foot on. Cameras clicked incessantly as Bhattacharjee, despite looking a little tired, kept waving, smiling and shaking hands.
In a desperate bid to catch Bhattacharjee’s attention, Partha Dutta, member of a bus association affiliated to the CPM’s labour arm Centre of Trade Unions (CITU), made a tree-like structure using CITU flags and bamboo sticks, and climbed atop a wall holding it aloft.
When Bhattacharjee waved at him, an excited Dutta said: “It took me four hours to make this tree. But with comrade Bhattacharjee taking a look, my efforts have borne fruits.”
The ‘red army’ marched shouting slogans ‘Jadavpurer lal mati te lal patakai urbe’ (the red flag will keep flying on the red soil of Jadavpur) and “Padey padey darkar, baam front sarkar’ (At every step we need the presence of the Left Front), with tiring legs giving way to fresh ones.
A 10-year-old boy was seen carrying a red flag twice his size and shouting “inquilab zindabad” (long live revolution). Asked if he knew what revolution was, the boy stared blankly. His father stepped in, saying “revolution means Left Front.” “When I was a kid, I accompanied my father to padyatras and now my son and daughter are carrying forward the legacy,” the father said.
As the convoy reached Garia Bazaar, hundreds of women threw flower petals at the chief minister’s car, shouting “Sakha sindur dia debo, mohakoron debona (we can give up our vermilion, but we won’t give up the seat of power)”, while others ridiculing Mamata Banerjee kept chanting “Didi theke didima mukhya mantra hobi na” (didi will age on to be a grandmother but still won’t become the chief minister).
As the roadshow reached its destination at Kamalgazi in South 24 Parganas, satisfaction was written large on Bhattacharjee’s face. Would the swarm of red supporters be a green signal to his third term in power?
Polls to 294 assembly seats will be held in West Bengal from April 18-May 10.