- Congress V-P Rahul Gandhi and CPI(M)\'s former Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya addressed a rally together in Kolkata
- Both parties called it a historic occasion
- Some CPI(M) leaders had been hesitant to share the dais with old enemy Congress
- The TMC, in fact, had questioned the togetherness of the newly-formed Congress-Left alliance
- Why has Buddhadeb been largely absent during the campaign?
- The rapport between the two leaders, and what they said at the rally
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and the former CPI(M) Chief Minister of Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee shared a stage at Kolkata's Park Circus Maidan on Wednesday, 27 April.
It was an unprecedented event - the duo jointly campaigned in favour of the Congress-Left alliance, which has been formed to put up a stiff challenge to the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Buddhadeb, a former CPI(M) Politburo member, acknowledged the historicity of the event, saying: "It never happened before - in Kolkata, or in Bengal, or elsewhere in the country. And it's all because the ruling party has established a 'jungle raj' in Bengal. The Congress and the Left have united to throw this party out of power, and reestablish the democratic rights of the people."
It's not as though leaders from the two parties haven't been in close proximity before. In fact, just a day before, some district leaders of the CPI(M) did share the stage with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Canning.
In Singur last Monday, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury addressed the same rally.
But so far, the two parties' leaders have largely avoided sharing the stage - Yechury, for example, arrived after Chowdhury had concluded his speech and left.
This contributed to the circulation of a rumour - that some CPI(M) leaders were hesitant to embrace the alliance, and wanted to maintain a safe distance from the Congress.
The TMC, in fact, tried to harp on this, reiterating that Congress sympathisers could never support Left candidates, and vice-versa.
But CPI(M) state secretary and current Leader of the Opposition, Surjya Kanta Mishra, and Buddhadeb seemed to have no such qualms.
Mishra, in fact, had shared the stage with senior state Congress leader Somen Mitra at Bhabanipur, where the alliance has pitted Congress's Deepa Dasmunsi against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and BJP's Chandra Bose, the grand-nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
This, combined with the Rahul-Buddhadeb joint appearance, looked like a move designed to allay the voters' fears about the parties not being on the same page. After all, the two were architects of the alliance, whose assurances could give it an air of genuineness.
Buddhadeb, in fact, made it clear that the Left and Congress workers were united throughout the length and breadth of the state, and would remain so, in order to bring 'democracy back to the state'.
Return to prominence
Buddhadeb is not the lead campaigner for the Left in this election. With his health failing him, he took the decision to stay out of the Politburo, even though he regularly goes to the state party headquarters. He rarely takes part in street-level campaigns or agitations.
Last year, the Left organised a march from Singur to Salboni, a distance of around 100 kilometres, in order to call for industrialisation of the state. He flagged off the march at Singur, his personal waterloo, but hasn't been seen much in public ever since.
He didn't campaign for the alliance in the first three phases, and then led a road show in south Kolkata where his trademark oratory was warmly greeted by the crowd. Party sources insisted that was a one-off, but when the need arose, the party called upon him to join Rahul on stage. And so he did.
It was interesting to note that neither the huge age gap between them nor the history of enmity between the parties got in the way of Buddhadeb and Rahul's personal rapport.
Buddhadeb actually had positive things to say about Rahul's late father, former PM Rajiv Gandhi, and recalled how he used to praise the panchayat system in Bengal.
The rally was organised by the state Congress, and Congress supporters were present in large numbers. But some red flags could also be spotted fluttering side-by-side with the Congress flags.
When Buddhadeb arrived, to a spontaneous greeting from the crowd, he held Rahul's hands and posed for photo journalists.
Even the contents of their speeches seemed well-coordinated. While Buddhadeb talked about lawlessness, lack of industrialisation and a decline in the state's economy, Rahul praised his term as Chief Minister by referring to the increased violence against women under Mamata. He also doubted Mamata's claim of creating 70 lakh jobs in the last five years.
Rahul's speech also mentioned the Saradha chit fund scam, the Narada sting, and the collapse of the flyover in Kolkata - using all three to attack Mamata on corruption charges.
Both the leaders also tried to link Mamata with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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