Kolkata: Well over 10 lakh people from across West Bengal poured into the Brigade Parade ground on Sunday, February 28, in response to the Left Front’s call along with its alliance partners Congress and the Indian Secular Front. As the three parties constituted the ‘Sanjukt Morcha’ to fight the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the poll-bound state, they broke into the electoral fray which was so far being projected as a fight between the TMC and BJP.
The morning at Red Road bordering and leading to the Brigade Parade Ground, Kolkata’s largest open field, was flooded with red flags of the different parties in the Left Front, along with some contingents of the Left’s new allies ISF and Congress who came to the brigade in mini trucks with much enthusiasm. Many people who came from faraway districts had already arrived on Saturday night and camped at the sight while others started coming in buses and trains to the venue since early morning, bringing to reality Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Md Salim’s prediction that this ‘People’s Brigade’ would be ‘mother of all rallies’.
From several key places in the city, marches of people coming to the brigade started with red flags and banners, dancing to the tune of popular political songs and parodies; in their bags, a humble package of puffed rice to eat through the day and newspapers to sit on the ground. As left supporters poured into the main railway junctions of Sealdah and Howrah by trains, painting the areas red, and huge marches came from there to the Brigade ground.
People came with families, including their kids and even the elderly, who have been lifelong supporters of the left. Those who came a day before from far-flung places, camped under the shades of trees at the end of the ground. However, the interesting element this time was the massive participation of youth supporters, who instilled energy and zeal into the crowd. Many of the these young participants were workers of the Democratic Youth Federation of India and the Students Federation of the India, both affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In their hands flew big red flags with the face of their revolutionary icon Che Guevara. “I have been coming to the Brigade rallies for a long time, I have never seen such massive participation by the youth, especially between age 20 and 25,” said Mirajul Haque (40), a regular participant in the Left’s Brigade rallies.
Entertainment and Humour
Entertainment was a big part of the rally with the Indian People’s Theatre Association and other musicians taking the stage with stormy ‘ganasangeet’ (people’s songs) numbers composed by the renowned Salil Chowdhury.
Even as the artists’ performances encouraged the audience to cheer despite the scorching sun, a long, white banner carried by several people with the words ‘Vote for the Secular Democratic Alliance’ in red letters in Bengali moved like a wave through the massive crowd.
In the grounds where the people gathered, many banners and placards with humorous digs at the TMC and BJP were on display. A group roamed with a red LPG cylinder shaped structure named ‘Modi Gas’; the cylinder one the other side had the blurb -- ‘Soon I will reach 1000 rupees,’ in a reference to the steeply rising price of cooking gas.
A group of Left supporters hold an LPG cylinder shaped structure at the Brigade Rally. Credit: Abhijit Datta
Another person drew people’s attention with big placard on which puppet like figures of Mukesh Ambani, Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee were put one after the other and when Ambani’s hands moved, so did the other two’s. Unwilling to name himself, the person who made it said he wanted to show that all of these people were connected and while Modi was controlled by Ambani, Banerjee was controlled by Modi.
A person at the Kolkata Brigade rally hold a placard with connected puppets of Ambani, Modi and Mamata. Credit: Aritry Das
People’s Issues Vs Religion and Regionalism
Delivering speeches at the rally, the political leaders have all shunned the TMC’s regionalism based on the Bengali identity and BJP’s religion based politics. They, instead,highlighted issues that are affecting the common people -- such as inflation, unemployment, farmers’ struggle, among other things. While CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said people of Bengal wanted a ‘janhit ka sarkar’ instead of those looting from people and dividing them on communal lines, CPI leader Swapan Banerjee underlined that a fight has started by workers, farmers, students and the youth together against the ruling regimes at the state and the Centre.
The leaders of the alliance who spoke at the rally also emphasised their claim that the BJP and Trinamool were one and the same and thus, they were ‘BJMOOL’, against whom the Morcha will fight.
This sentiment was echoed by people in the Brigade rally as well.
Subrata Mandal from West Burdwan in Asansol, who is a lecturer at BB College in Asansol, said, “In both TMC and BJP, there is ideological bankruptcy and their leaders shift to and from each others’ party. They only want to do communal polarisation while healthcare, education and agriculture are ailing. The Left Front, Congress and other secular parties will ensure the fight for jobs, food and education.”
Drawing a difference between BJP-RSS’s Hindutva and Bengali Hindus, Mandal said, “We are Hindu by birth, but our religion is Humanism. But BJP’s Hindutva do not let people unite, it instead divides and gives way to narrowness of the mind.”
The ISF groups largely comprised young men from the Muslim community, most of whom come from poor families, stay on the margins of the society and almost none of them have hitherto attended a rally at the Brigade ground. Sabir Ali Sardar, standing at the side of the barricade near the stage with an ISF flag, is one such participant who has come from Usthi in South 24 Parganas. “It feels great to be here, I am feeling very proud of being part of this,” Sardar told Newsclick.
He said he was there for ‘Bhaijan’, referring to ISF leader Abbas Siddiqui. “Bhaijan stands beside us who have been left behind by the society, who are poor,” Sardar said, adding that he had earlier voted for and supported the TMC but thought they were harming Bengal. Underlining his unwavering support for ISF, he said he did not come to the Brigade Parade Ground even when he supported the TMC and CM Mamata Banerjee held rallies there.
Sardar further expressed fear if the BJP comes to power in the state, saying that the party will implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which would be a great threat to them as neither him or his father have documents dating back to 1971 to prove their citizenship.
Dilawar Hussain Gazi, who will vote for the first time at age 20, had come with Sardar on his maiden visit to a Brigade rally . Saying that Siddiqui had helped their backward community to progress, Gazi asserted that the Left-Congress-ISF alliance would win the election.
“In the election of 2021, no ruffian can capture booths. People of Bengal have awakened. People will exercise their democratic right, and when that happens, nobody can stop the Left-Congress secular-democratic alliance from forming the government,” Tanmoy Bhattacharya, Left leader and CPI(M) MLA, told media persons on the side of the rally.
Along with leaders, the common people at the rally also exuded the confidence that the Sanjukt Morcha will win in the upcoming elections starting in March. “The BJP is sitting at the Centre, they don’t have members at the village levels. We will vote for the Morcha candidate and make them win,” said Chand Mallik(32) who was standing with other locals from his village in Kaliganj constituency in Nadia district. They had travelled more than 150 kms to reach the Brigade Ground in buses. They also said that they had difficulty reaching the venue as the police were blocking buses and trucks coming to the Brigade in order to reduce the crowd. The local media reported that lines of buses and trucks were stranded for a long time at the Durgapur Expressway near Dankuni. Mallik added that can’t such a big Brigade rally in recent memory.
“At present, democracy has been eroded in West Bengal. In the 2018 Panchayat elections, the TMC hindered nomination filing of candidates in around 34% of seats. Mamata Banerjee is saying she has done development; if it is so, why is she not letting candidates fairly fight the elections?” asked Mirajul Haque, a CPI(M) worker who came from Ashoknagar in North 24 Parganas.
He said unemployment was a big issue for him this election, especially after the recent death of 30-year-old Maidul Midya, who allegedly died from police lathi-charge while protesting against unemployment. “In 10 years, SSC exams have not been held. So many brilliants students from the rural areas, who are poor like us, could not get job through TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) examination,” Haque said, adding that people have now united against the exploitation and corruption. Newsclick has previously reported on the High Court setting aside the TET 2014 selection procedure citing irregularities.
Criticising the BJP’s ‘Sonar Bangla’ campaign, he said if the party had created a ‘Golden India’ at the Centre, the state would have naturally been part of it. “Cannot create ‘Sonar Bangla’ with communalism,” Haque said.
Arnab Jana from Kanpur gram panchayat in Howrah said, “Around 150 of us have come despite TMC terror to fight against unemployment and exploitation. There’s terror by TMC in the morning and by the BJP in the night. But the wind is changing. A large section of farmers will vote for the Left alliance too. No matter what Abhishek Banerjee (TMC leader) or Dillip Ghosh say, their dream of victory will only be a dream and the alliance will come to power in 2021.” Jana added that he was a victim of unemployment, working as a private tutor to children despite college-level education.