Painted faces, balloons, umbrellas, large cut-outs of the party symbol being waved along with the party flag – everything about the procession that started at the gates of the Botanical Gardens in Howrah district on Tuesday was red. Even the showers of flowers – hibiscuses, roses and balsams -- that shrouded the windscreen of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's car as soon as it entered the venue were crimson.
The roar of the crowds shouting out their “Laal Salam” to Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee drowned out the announcements being made over the loudspeakers. They had been waiting for hours in the sun anticipating his arrival. The numbers were so overwhelming that the open-hooded jeep that Mr. Bhattacharjee mounted was held back for a while before the procession could take off.
The jeep crawled its way through the procession that meandered its way through Shibpur, Howrah Uttar, Howrah Madhya and Howrah Dakshin constituencies for well over three hours till it reached its destination at Salkia. The district, along with Hooghly, Purba Medinipur and parts of Bardhaman will be going to the polls on May 3.
Supporters bearing flags and all forms of Communist Party of India (Marxist) insignia walked alongside – some of them inches away from Mr. Bhattacharjee's vehicle. Outstretched arms reached out to him even as he tried to shake hands with as many as he could, waving out to the rest. Some had painted their faces, others had plastered them with stickers of the CPI (M) symbol; some proudly flaunted tee-shirts given by the party, others had hunted through their wardrobe for shirts, saris or kurtas – anything red they could find.
Red caps and hats, scarves and bandanas, flags and banners – a red sea followed the black jeep Mr. Bhattacharjee was riding, flanked by the local candidates of the Left Front. Strains of “We shall overcome!” and other Bengali favourites of the Left movement followed the jeep everywhere it went.
Local residents managed a bird's eye view from the terraces and balconies of their homes even as they debated whether they had ever seen such a large procession go by in these parts. Children, student and youth activists and even the physically challenged had made their way to the procession. Francis Haldar, a 55-year-old supporter paralysed from the waist down, has attended several Left Front rallies including mammoth rallies organised at the Brigade parade ground in Kolkata. “But this time is particularly special because the Chief Minster has come to my neighbourhood,” said Mr. Haldar, a resident of Shibpur.