Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and CPM veteran and former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will address a joint rally in Kolkata on Wednesday — the strongest display yet of a Congress-Left bonding that had begun tentatively but is gradually showing signs of strengthening as the Bengal polls enter the crucial final stages.
The rally at Park Circus Maidan is widely being seen as confirmation of reports that the understanding was a brainchild of CPM veterans Bhattacharjee and Surjya Kanta Mishra.
Biman Bose, the other top CPM leader, has not been seen at any rallies with Congress leaders. Before the two sides firmed up their understanding, he had ruled out joint rallies,saying: “How can the hammer-and-sickle and palm symbols share same space? The CPM-Congress has come to an understanding only to oust Trinamool Congress government.”
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Even CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury has steered clear of making public appearances with the Congress leadership, stressing they shared only an “understanding” and not a formal alliance. Tripura’s CPM Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, on the other hand, is said to be unhappy with even the understanding.
Amid these contradictions comes the joint rally featuring Bhattacharjee, who, despite being no longer in the politburo, remains one of CPM’s tallest leaders. He had been avoiding the campaign on grounds of health until last week, when he did a road show in South Kolkata in support of CPM candidates. One of them was Sujan Chakraborty, who will challenge Trinamool’s Manish Gupta, who had routed Bhattacharjee in Jadavpur in 2011. Those in favour of the alliance feel the joint rally should help them win some seats in South-24 Parganas and Kolkata.
The Trinamool has sat up and taken notice, if only to mock the event. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday described it as “the last nail in the coffin” of both Congress and CPM. “They have become shamelessly desperate,” Mamata said at a rally at Bamanghata in South-24 Parganas.
Mamata brandished papers purportedly taken from books of accounts of various parties, and said: “The BJP had a collection of Rs 2,200 crore from unknown sources, the Congress had Rs 2,100 crore from unknown sources and the CPM had shown a collection of Rs 668 crore from unknown sources… Why shouldn’t Sonia Gandhi clarify on the Congress collection of Rs 2,100 crore from unknown sources before she calls us thieves?… The CPM is the great-grandfather of corruption in Indian politics and they are pointing fingers at us.”
Sonia, incidentally, was in Hooghly the same day. She set the stage for the Rahul-Bhattacharjee meeting by sharing stage with Rabin Deb, CPM candidate from Singur. She called for votes for Congress and the “lal jhandawala party”.
The remaining rounds of the polls in South-24 Parganas, Kolkata and East Medinipur constitute the core of the Trinamool stronghold.
The public display of the top CPM and Congress leaders together is aimed at breaking this stranglehold. A CPM central committee member agreed: “This is our last-ditch attempt to ensure transfer of votes at the ground level.”