| Raj Babbar addresses the crowd in Ratua, Malda. Picture by Surajit Roy
Itahar, May 2: Mamata Banerjee came but could not conquer.
Hundreds of people had assembled here, 22 km from Raiganj town, not so much for the Trinamul chief but for Raj Babbar, Agra MP and a Bollywood hero once upon a time, who had been brought along by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi to campaign for the Congress.
The grand alliance might not have happened but both Mamata and Das Munshi today held their election meetings at venues located almost a stone's throw away from each other.
The two meetings were held on the Itahar High School premises and Saraidighi Math, grounds adjoining each other. Though Mamata was visibly upset with the Congress's choice of venue, it was good news for security personnel.
The Trinamul chief, who arrived at 1 pm, was in for a surprise when she saw the Congress bandobast. 'This is unethical,' she muttered, claiming that she had announced her meeting much earlier and that the Congress should not have arranged their rally near hers.
Throughout the day, the Congress supporters had been announcing the arrival of Das Munshi and Babbar, who has been expelled by the Samajwadi Party and has joined the 'secular third front' of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh. The only saving grace was that they made no announcement when Mamata was addressing the gathering.
But as soon as Mamata left ' about half-an-hour later ' her supporters rolled up the flags, put them inside their bags and made a beeline for Babbar, who was yet to arrive.
As a result, over 5,000 people switched over to the Congress meeting, joining a couple of thousands who had already arrived in buses and on foot from nearby areas.
Soon the helicopter carrying the Union minister and the Bollywood actor landed in the adjoining field. As Babbar strode on to the dais, the crowd began chanting the names of his films and the characters he had played. Das Munshi confined his speech to five minutes before leaving the microphone to Babbar.
Noor Bibi, who had a Trinamul flag hidden within the folds of her saree, said: 'I am a great admirer of didi. She thinks about our problems, but why shouldn't I avail of the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the star'
The star, along with Das Munshi, also visited South Dianjpur and Malda.