Kolkata: With the red flag fluttering alongside the Congress tricolour, an ailing former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday hit the campaign trail leading a huge road show in support of CPI-M candidates through the city`s southern outskirts.
Attired in his trademark kurta and dhoti, Bhattacharjee rode an open jeep flanked by party candidates from Tollygunge, Jadavpur and Kasba constituencies, as thousands of Left Front and Congress workers and supporters enthusiastically joined in.
They sang, shouted slogans parodying the Trinamool Congress and exuding confidence of the Left and democratic forces forming the next government.
Bhattacharjee, a patient of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had kept away from the heat and dust of the campaign so far following his doctors` advice not to undertake long travels, despite requests from all party district units to lead the election campaign.
However, party sources said he was spending long hours at the party headquarters in Alimuddin Street, supervising the nitty gritties of the campaign, coining the slogans, and playing a major role in deciding venues of election meetings and the state level speakers.
Now an invitee to the Communist Party of India-Marxist`s policy-making body politburo, Bhattacharjee is also regarded as one of the architects of the Left Front-Congress tie-up, and was largely instrumental from behind the wings in ensuring the central committee nod for the poll understanding between the two long-time foes.
But with the poll caravan now moving on to the doorsteps of the city, Bhattacharjee agreed to join the public campaign.
He seemed more aged, with all grey hair, but seemed spurred on by the huge turnout, as he chatted with the party`s young candidate from Kasba, Shataroop Ghosh, and Sujon Chakraborty, a state secretariat member and contestant from Jadavpur.
Another young nominee, Students` Federation of India leader Madhuja Sen Roy, in the fray from Tollygunge, seemed somewhat awed by Bhattacharjee`s presence.
The rally, that started off from the base of the Dhakuria Bridge at 5.15 p.m. with several thousand participants, swelled in size as Left supporters joined in large numbers on the way.
At various points, even common people were seen walking a few steps with the rallyists.
People peered through windows, crowded balconies of multi-storeyed apartments and other houses, with the large posse of mediapersons adding to the cacophony in their frantic bid to capture every footage and still frame of the 72-year-old leader.
With people also lining both sides of the route and even jostling for a glimpse of Bhattacharjee, who has restricted his public appearances and allowed a new generation of leaders to hog the limelight since losing the polls from Jadavpur in 2011, the former chief minister repeatedly waved to the large crowd that gathered on both sides of the road, and acknowledged their greetings and salutations.
There were continuous chants of "Inquilab Zindabad" and "Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee lal salaam", as Marxist cadres in red caps tried to keep a semblance of discipline.
The road show passed the famed Jadavpur University, and many students joined in, clapping in rhythm and raising catchy slogans.
"Ghooshkhorder sarkar, aar nei darkar" (We don`t need governments that take bribes) "Thanda thanda cool cool, jele jabe Trinamool" (Jail for Trinamool leaders), they said.
The distance of about 8 km was covered in about two-and-half hours, with the first column of the `red army` reaching Garia crossing.
Bhattacharjee`s jeep, in the middle of the convoy, reached a few minutes later. The veteran leader looked tired, but surcharged by the adulation of the crowd.
There were persistent demands for him to address the crowd. Bhattacharjee obliged, albeit briefly.
"I thank everybody, wish you all the best. It was a huge rally. We will hold bigger rallies in the coming days. We have bigger battles ahead," he said, to thunderous applause.
"Inquilab", said the leader in conclusion. "Zindabad", the crowd roared back.
Bhattacharjee succeeded Jyoti Basu as chief minister in November 2000, and ruled till May 2011, when the Left Front was voted out and the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool formed the new government in alliance with the Congress.