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Make it large is Mamata motto
Rally numbers recall Nikita and Nikolai

Nirapad Naskar is a veteran of political rallies but a walk down Mayo Road on Thursday afternoon convinced him that he hadn’t seen a bigger assembly.

“This is the biggest rally…. Look at the sea of people,” the grocer from Kultali, in South 24-Parganas, said.

For Naskar, it was his first Brigade outing as a Trinamul supporter, having switched allegiance from the SUCI barely three months ago.

As he traced his footsteps back towards traffic sanity along with the rest of the rally crowd around 2.30pm, he wasn’t the only one with “jana samudro (sea of people)” on his lips.

The size of the congregation was the topic of discussion everywhere, and long after Mamata Banerjee had ended her speech by rolling out a turnout figure of 20 to 25 lakh. “It is a historic, spontaneous and mammoth rally, which has crossed all previous records,” chief minister Mamata said later in a Facebook post.

The virtual world had been buzzing with details about Trinamul’s show of strength even as Mamata and other party leaders were on the dais. For those who couldn’t be at the venue to hear them speak, there was live streaming and Twitter updates by an eight-member technical support team of Trinamul, a party that has embraced technology faster than most of its rivals.

Police officers said party supporters started thronging the Brigade Parade Grounds at 9am, though smaller groups of supporters were spotted several hours earlier. Morning walkers in the Maidan belt said they saw between 1,500 to 2,000 people at the venue as early as 5.30am.“Some of them were women carrying little children wrapped in woollens,” said a regular morning visitor to the Maidan.

In around 6 hours, the number of people in the area grew exponentially, giving Trinamul leaders and sympathisers a chance to crow that Thursday’s turnout was among the largest the city had seen.

“Indira (Gandhi) and Mujibur (Rahman) had addressed a public meeting at the Brigade in 1971 but I have not seen such a spontaneous turnout in my lifetime,” said writer Mahasweta Devi.

Tolly actor Dev too spoke about the size of the crowd in a short speech. “I don’t know what to say in front of so many people,” the star of Chander Pahar said.

The other rally that some Trinamul leaders compared the gathering to was one at the same venue in 1955, when Jawaharlal Nehru had shared the dais with Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin.

But veteran police officers said the turnout at the three meetings couldn’t be compared because the size of the Brigade Parade Grounds had decreased over the years.

“The Brigade and its surrounding areas span 3.6 lakh sq ft. In our estimate, one square foot can accommodate two people. So there would have been around 7 lakh people at the venue today,” an officer said.

Trinamul leaders insisted that an equal number of people were “outside” — either approaching the venue or hanging around in the vicinity. The turnout, therefore, couldn’t have been less than 14 to 15 lakh, they said.

Members of the Trinamul rally machinery said in private that elaborate arrangements had been made to meet the target of 20 lakh set by Mamata.

Party units in the districts adjoining Calcutta — North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah — as well as East Midnapore were given targets of at least 3 lakh people each. Supporters from other places, including north Bengal, turned up too and Mamata was apparently happy with the show.

The chief minister vowed to organise an even bigger Brigade rally after achieving her mission of helping bring about “change” in Delhi in the Lok Sabha polls.

“We set our own records and then we break it… After the change of guard in Delhi, we will have a bigger show here,” she declared.