Rahul Gandhi and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will address a joint rally in Kolkata Wednesday, the strongest display yet of a Congress-Left bonding that had begun tentatively but is gradually showing signs of strengthening as the West 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 Buddhadeb and Surjya Kanta Mishra. Biman Bose, the other top leader of the party, has not been seen at any rally with a Congress leader. Bose had earlier ruled out joint rallies, saying: “How can the hammer-and-sickle and palm symbols share the same space? The CPM and Congress have only come to an understanding, trying to oust the Trinamool Congress government.”
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Even Sitaram Yechury, CPM general secretary, has steered clear of making public appearances with the Congress leadership, stressing that they share 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 Buddhadeb who, despite being no longer in the politburo, remains one of the party’s tallest leaders. He had been avoiding the campaign on grounds of health until last week, when he did a roadshow in south Kolkata in support of CPM candidates, one of these being Sujon Chakraborty who will challenge Manish Gupta, the Trinamool Congress candidate who had routed Buddhadeb 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, where there is intense infighting within the Trinamool Congress.
The Trinamool Congress has sat up and taken notice, if only to mock the event. Mamata Banerjee described it Tuesday as “the last nail in the coffin” of both the Congress and the CPM. “The CPM and the Congress have become shamelessly desperate,” Mamata said at a rally at Bamanghata, 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 South 24-Parganas the same day. She set the stage for the Rahul-Buddhadeb meeting by sharing her stage with Robin Deb, the CPM candidate from Singur. She called for votes for the Congress and the lal jhanda-wala party”.
Sonia attacked Mamata, saying the chief minister has replicated in Bengal what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done at the Centre. “Mamata had come to power claiming to be the well-wisher of the poor but forgot them as soon as she came to power,” Sonia said. “If they (Mamata and Modi) don’t have a tacit understanding, why has the investigation into the Saradha scam gone slow and, in turn, why does the TMC help the BJP pass all its anti-national bills?”
The remaining rounds of the polls in South 24-Parganas, Kolkata and Medinipur East constitute the core of the Trinamool Congress stronghold. The public display of top leaders of the CPM and the Congress together is aimed at breaking this stranglehold, a CPM central committee member conceded. “This is our last-ditch attempt to ensure transfer of votes at the ground level,” the leader said.