| Protesters gape as an AWACS aircraft flies overhead the Kalaikunda air force base. Picture by Amit Datta
Kalaikunda, Nov. 7: They came and protested; but they couldn’t help gaping at the spectacle.
“Comrade runwayer dik theke shore mancher kaachhe aashun. Okhane dekhar kichhu nei (Comrade don’t stand near the runway, there’s nothing to see there. You are wanted near the stage).”
The public address system was meant to spew venom at the Indo-US joint exercise, but a visibly angry CPM West Midnapore district secretary, Deepak Sarkar, had to use it also to rebuke erring comrades seduced by the air show of their lives.
So much so that ' on a day the CPM was also celebrating the November Revolution 'party cadre even dared to turn a deaf ear to their top leaders. Their attention was rivetted on the US F-16 and E3 air-borne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft and the Indian Air Force’s MiGs, Jaguars and Sukhois.
Exercise Cope India 2005, which began at 3 am, was over by sunset but officials said the exchange of notes continued till late in the evening. The teams are being led by the US air force’s Colonel Nelson Cabot and IAF’s Air Commodore Atul Saikia.
“There are no bombings; this is professional training. We are exchanging views on concepts and doctrines and working in the electronic regime of beyond-visual combat,” a senior IAF officer said.
“Eto kachhe theke juddho biman dekhbo bhabi ni (I had never expected to see fighter planes from this close),” gushed Krishna Dehari, who had come to the rally from Beliabara’s Petbindhi. He was one of the thousands who stood transfixed near the runway fencing as planes touched down at regular intervals.
Thirty IAF and 13 US Air Force fighters took part in the exercise.
“Oi dekh, aaro ekta. Ota Americar biman (See, there’s another. This one’s an American plane),” screamed an excited Bhusan Mahato, resident of a nearby village, as the E3 AWACS with its big radar approached the runway. “We are used to watching fighter aircraft take off; but I’ve never seen a plane like this one.”
In desperation, Sarkar again grabbed the microphone and barked, “That’s enough, the last plane has landed. Now you can come back.” Yet none budged.
But some, at least, hadn’t forgotten what they had come for. As the planes landed, these cadres waved black flags. At 1 pm, when the rally ended, many stayed back to have a last look at the fighters.
The rally, meant to pep up cadres before the 2006 Assembly polls, was smaller than expected. CPM district leaders had predicted a crowd of nearly 1.5 lakh; but police gave a figure of 80,000.
In Calcutta, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told reporters the Left was against US weapons and dominance. “But we want American capital, investment and knowledge.”
He said the Prime Minister had initially thought the state government would try to prevent the exercise. “How can we physically prevent the exercise' We wanted it cancelled. I told him our rally is a totally political agitation.”
Two Left MPs, Laksman Seth of CPM and Prabodh Panda of CPI, along with state minister Sushanta Ghosh and CPM’s East Midnapore district secretary Sudhir Giri attended the rally.
The infighting in the district unit, however, became apparent with Deepak Dasgupta, the party’s state secretariat member in charge of the district, keeping away from the biggest political rally here in several years.
“Dasgupta was to come but couldn’t make it for personal reasons,” a senior party leader said.