Kolkata: Ganga Hembram, Dipak Jana and Debasish Bhuniya, supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, stealthily left their homes at Nandigram in West Bengal’s East Midnapore district some days ago to attend a CPM rally in Kolkata on Sunday.
The CPM, which heads the Left Front state government, has been overrun in Nandigram by the Trinamool Congress, West Bengal’s main opposition party, since violent clashes took place between the police and farmers over land acquisition in 2007 for a now-abandoned special economic zone.
“Trinamool leaders went from home to home asking people not to attend Sunday’s CPM rally in Kolkata,” said Jana, 40, who hid with his friends at Haldia for two days on the way to the state capital. “We left days ago without telling our neighbours where we were headed, but if, even now, we are caught, we are surely going to face persecution.”
Jana was among nearly 700,000 people who gathered in Kolkata for the Sunday rally—a show of strength for the CPM ahead of assembly elections in April-May. People came from across the state, loaded in buses that clogged traffic in Kolkata since the morning. The CPM and its allies formally launched their election campaign at the rally.
The Left Front has been in power in West Bengal for nearly three decades, but after being trounced in civic and parliamentary elections over the past two years by the alliance of the Trinamool Congress and the Congress party, yet another victory in assembly elections is far from certain.
“A big battle is to be fought” and it is to be won “at any cost”, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjeesaid.
He attacked the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre for failing to control food prices, saying “the Congress is a party of the rich. It has done nothing for the farmers and the economically backward”.
Bhattacharjee also said the Trinamool Congress was “providing oxygen” to Maoist rebels.
The CPM pulled out all stops to make sure the rally was awe inspiring, said a party leader from East Midnapore who was tasked with gathering 1,500 people from Nandigram alone.
“The aim was to remind people that we still have a strong support base in Nandigram,” he said, asking not to be identified.
From Singur, where the CPM lost ground after allegedly trying to force people to give up land to allow Tata MotorsLtdto set up a small car factory, local leaders were asked to gather 8,000 people.
Targets for Nandigram and Singur may not have been met, but the overall turnout at Sunday’s rally was well ahead of the opposition’s expectations.
“They (people) turned up in large number because it was their (CPM’s) farewell meet,” Trinamool Congress chairperson and Union railway minister Mamata Banerjeesaid.
As darkness fell, most CPM supporters at the rally left for their homes in packed buses. But those from Nandigram did not—for fear of being caught by Trinamool.
For some, said Hembram, it might be days before they sneak into their villages.