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CPM stirs, so do spectators

- Old politics takes a boat to Calcutta and sinks commuters, new one eyes subsidised dry land
Traffic on at least 20 major roads spread across around 5sqkm was crippled by the CPM rally on Wednesday, affecting countless commuters. But a group of CPM cadres (in picture above) did have a smooth sailing, though they were not taking the Metro like Arvind Kejriwal did on his first day in office. Around 700 CPM supporters reached Babughat in dozens of boats but they did not try to head towards Nabanna, the state secretariat, as originally planned.
The CPM leadership had earlier planned to bring comrades in boats to Shibpur Ghat in Howrah as part of its march to Nabanna. But the plan was altered at the last moment following a word from police. “Had they tried to head towards Nabanna through the waterway, we would have been forced to arrest them on water for unlawful assembly,” a police officer said later. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya

Calcutta, Jan. 8: The CPM is finally stirring. So are the cadres who still seem to be in search of an idea that will keep them engrossed.

Gautam Deb, the secretary of the CPM’s North 24-Parganas unit, today vowed to launch a “direct, active and massive” movement against the Mamata Banerjee government at one of the biggest rallies the party has organised in recent times.

“After our defeat in the Assembly elections, we had decided to play the role of a constructive Opposition… We did not call strikes, we did not bring out regular rallies as we wanted this government to settle down,” said Deb.

“But that won’t happen any more. This government has completed 32 months and we will use all our strength for a more direct, active and massive movement all across Bengal,” he declared amid thunderous applause at Rani Rashmoni Avenue.

The North 24-Parganas unit of the party had organised the rally in the heart of the city as part of its “Nabanna abhijan (March to Nabanna)” to submit a memorandum to the chief minister. The memorandum — highlighting issues, ranging from atrocities on CPM cadres to government’s failure in attracting investments — was read out at the end of the meeting.

Deb and his team managed to marshal a decent turnout and choked traffic at the city centre — a “trophy” achievement that Calcutta can expect more often with the general election round the corner.

The police, who normally give a conservative estimate in case of rallies by Opposition parties, said around 50,000 people attended. Party sources quoted a 2-lakh-plus figure. Although turnouts at rallies mean very little — Mamata’s rallies during her Opposition days had always drawn huge audiences — the CPM leaders cannot be faulted for calling it “a success”.

But the more important questions were: is the party sending the right political message? Are the leaders being able to instil confidence among the cadres in the villages? Is there a chance that those who deserted the CPM will return to its fold?

Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made a faint effort to address some of these issues, admitting that the party had made mistakes and also learnt from them.

But as he did not explain what the mistakes were and what the party learnt, the answers were at the most hazy.

Following tradition, Bhattacharjee was reserved as the last speaker and he took care to explain how Mamata’s politics jeopardised his plans of Bengal’s industrial rejuvenation.

But by the time Bhattacharjee rose to speak, the audience, having heard Deb’s diatribe, had started thinning.

“Comrade, won’t you listen to Buddha-da?” asked a man who was sitting on the pavement as he saw some people leaving after Deb’s speech.

“What will happen to this party?” he wondered as those leaving the venue shuffled away in silence.

Most other speakers chose to tickle the funny bone of the audience through Mamata-bashing, avoiding the key questions and warming up for the Left Front’s annual show of strength at the Brigade Parade Grounds on February 9.

From criticising the chief minister’s decision to use a chopper to tour districts to her alleged misbehaviour with senior officers and policemen — Deb was vicious in his attack on Mamata.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose picked up from where Deb had left off. The audience was amused when he said only 731 people had attended the chief minister’s rally at Amlasole yesterday. He, however, did not mention the source of the data.

“We know that two years and eight months are not long enough…. But given the direction of this anti-people government, we cannot give them more time,” said Bose.

Although both Deb and Bose indicated that it was a conscious decision of the party to avoid any direct conflict with the ruling Trinamul till now, recent deliberations within the party do not corroborate this claim.

At some of the recent state committee meetings, the state leadership came under attack from colleagues for their failure in organising movement on key issues like the Saradha default, agrarian distress because of the government’s faulty procurement policies and repeated instances of violence against women.

Besides, the state leadership got engaged in a bitter debate with some leaders from the district on whether organisational deficiencies on the ground or the lack of direction from the party headquarters was the reason behind the poor show in the panchayat polls.

“The call for a wider movement against Mamata is fine on paper. But the question is whether we can do that? Can we stop the Trinamul goons in the villages?” asked a comrade from Basirhat, who was standing near the dais through the three-hour meeting and listened to all the speeches with utmost attention.

The CPM state leadership – many of whom are past their prime – have often been accused of restricting themselves to the party headquarters instead of reaching out to the comrades under attack in the villages.

There have also been questions on whether repeating the same political line of how the regime under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was trying to industrialise Bengal was the right pitch as the 2011 Assembly election results had proved its lack of appeal to the voters.