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One big rally and two parties
Divisions show up in diffused drive from podium

Soldiers turn up... ...Generals let down
The turnout at the Left Front’s Brigade rally on Sunday; Prakash Karat and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the rally. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya and Amit Datta

Calcutta, Feb. 9: They did come in horde after horde, they did see a brimming pantheon but they did not hear a conquering voice.

If the foot soldiers at the Left Front’s Brigade rally lifted the morale of the speakers — some of whom failed to hide their surprise at its size at a time of steadily falling vote shares — the leaders seemed to have largely failed to return the favour.

Many of the cadres who have risked Trinamul wrath back home by attending the event confessed disappointment at the mostly tepid speeches and the leaders’ failure even to promise to visit their villages and stand by them.

The turnout was estimated between 4 and 5 lakh — not record-breaking but surpassing the limited expectations of the front in view of complaints of Trinamul intimidation.

If the national leaders stuck to the third-front refrain, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was supposed to spearhead the clawback attempt before the Lok Sabha polls, gave the impression of going through the motions rather than putting his heart and soul into the campaign to boost the morale of the cadres.

Less than 24 hours earlier, something had happened that reaffirmed suspicions of a divided house. Bhattacharjee, the former chief minister, was roundly criticised at the CPM state committee meeting on Saturday for admitting a week ago that the Netai killings were a “grave mistake”.

Nine people had been killed in Netai in 2011 before the Assembly elections, and the murders were blamed on a CPM cadre camp set up to fight Maoists.

Bhattacharjee’s admission — and his decision to draw a distinction between Netai and Nandigram — last week is being seen as a reflection of his belief that the party should own up to its mistakes and make a new beginning if it has to reinvent itself.

But not many others agree with him — something that was manifest in the attack yesterday and the sense of hangover that was felt by many today at the rally.

Bhattacharjee did criticise the Mamata Banerjee government on industry but it lacked the usual bite, probably because he had moved on to matters such as the danger of LIC privatisation — a third front hobby horse.

“Nothing is happening here.… Young people are not getting jobs, no industry is coming,” said Bhattacharjee, adding how Singur had become a smashan (cremation ground) and Nandigram a narakkundo (hell).

Then, he spoke on the need to form a third front to prevent Narendra Modi from taking power at the Centre. “We have to form policies so that farmers and workers are protected, banks and companies like LIC are not privatised,” said Bhattacharjee.

That he was a bit down did not go unnoticed. “I think he couldn’t get over the criticism he faced yesterday (at the state committee meeting). Almost all the speakers had criticised him,” said a district leader who had joined the chorus against the Netai admission.

Bhattacharjee’s admission that the Netai killings were a “grave mistake” contrasts sharply with the stand the central leadership has taken on a political murder in Kerala.

V.S. Achuthanandan, one of the few surviving founding leaders of the CPM, had two days ago stunned the party by calling for a wider probe into the 2012 murder of T.P. Chandrasekharan, a Marxist dissident who had broken away.

Some CPM functionaries have been convicted in the case, and the party fears a “wider probe” — seen as a euphemism for a CBI inquiry — may implicate senior Kerala leaders and expose their alleged links with a smuggler.

Achuthanandan’s appeal for a probe stung the party so hard that the available politburo met in Delhi yesterday and issued a formal statement rejecting the veteran’s demand.

Against such a backdrop, the party is finding it difficult to swallow any admission of wrongdoing in Netai, which also deals with political violence.

The reluctance to take a bold stand on something as unjustifiable as political violence reflects the party’s inability to take corrective action after the debacles in the 2009 and 2011 elections.

Today, Bhattacharjee and general secretary Prakash Karat tried to pack a range of national and local issues into the 12 to 14 minutes allotted to them. CPM state secretary Biman Bose went global, alleging Mamata’s policies were fanning fundamentalism in Bangladesh.

“It isn’t that the issues they raised aren’t relevant, but these things have been repeated again and again. Our immediate priority should be to pep up our cadres so they can go back to their villages and stand up against the Trinamul onslaught,” a senior RSP leader said.

A supporter who had come from Canning, South 24-Parganas, could not hide his disappointment: “Buddhababu did not utter a single word about the defectors (in the Rajya Sabha elections). Karat was busy explaining the need for a secular third front. Our fight is with Trinamul….”

But CPM leaders contested such views. At a post-Brigade stock-taking meeting at Alimuddin Street, the CPM headquarters, the assessment was that Sunday’s rally was a “turnaround” event, sources said.

A source, however, conceded that “it was a Brigade of the people, not of the leaders”.

Other sources cited several reasons why the delivery from the dais could have been a damper.

One, Bhattacharjee apparently was not well. “His head was reeling after 10 minutes and he had to stop,” a leader said.

Two, the topic for each speaker was decided in advance. Surjya Kanta Mishra, the Opposition leader who enthused the audience most because of a withering attack on the state government, was lucky as he was asked to focus on that subject, the sources said.

The decision to accommodate around 15 speakers from the front constituents meant that even the spearheads had to rush through their speeches.

But the CPM is counting it as a turnaround rally because the “body language of the crowd was the biggest achievement as it indicated that the people are willing to fight”, a leader said.

Mishra also alluded to this in his speech. “You have said whatever had to be said,” he told the audience. “This assembly of people has sent out the most important message.”

Almost all the speakers were effusive about the turnout — achieved amid allegations of Trinamul obstructions — seemingly relieved to be spared the blushes after Mamata’s January 30 show of strength at the same venue.

The turnout today appeared to suggest that the cadres are still willing to risk life and limb — many rallyists did not want to be named for fear of retribution when they return home — to stand up for the Left.

But a reciprocal assurance could not be heard from the pedestal.


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