Kolkata: Facing anti-incumbency after 32 years in power, West Bengal's ruling Left Front Monday sought to enthuse its cadres by organising a massive rally in the city to mark 50 years of a mass movement against food shortages.
Six weeks after Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee-led main opposition Trinamool Congress mobilised lakhs of people in its annual martyrs' day rally on July 21 close to the venue of the Front programme, Monday's meeting was a show of strength by the ruling combine after a series of recent electoral losses.
The Trinamool-led opposition's spectacular performances in the polls to rural and civic bodies, Lok Sabha and assembly by-elections, have cast doubts on whether the Front can stretch its marathon stint in power beyond the 2011 state assembly elections.
On top of that, Banerjee's almost daily announcements of new trains and other railway projects and political statements aimed at weaning away the front base by utilising her ministry have also put the ruling coalition under pressure.
In a written message to the rally, ailing Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu urged the left workers to go to the people and regain the confidence of those who have turned against the state government.
"Work for the people. We should not lose faith in the people, even those of our former supporters who have gone against us. We must not think of them as our enemies. We have to bring these people back to our fold," the nonagenarian leader said in the missive read out by Left Front chairman Biman Bose.
"I have confidence that the people of our state will never allow opportunistic and anti-left forces to come to power," said Basu, who was state chief minister from 1977 to 2000. Under his leadership, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front won five Assembly polls.
Cautioning the people that canards were being spread dime a dozen against the Front, Basu asked the gathering to take a pledge for making a turnaround in the combine's fortunes.
A condolence resolution read out at the rally claimed that uncountable number of left workers and supporters had been murdered by "anti-socials backed by" opposition parties like the Congress and Trinamool and the left radical Maoists.
"Everyday, our workers are being attacked and killed. Efforts are on to create lawlessness in the state and bring back the landlord classes into power. Through violence, reactionary forces are trying to break poor people's unity," said the resolution.
However, it expressed confidence that the onward march of the leftists could not be stopped by violent attacks on them.
Bose claimed nearly 600,000 people had assembled at the rally held in the heart of the city: the Metro Channel.
The Left Front leaders also paid homage to those who fell to police firing during the "Food Movement" which was launched in 1959 when the state was suffering from acute food shortage.
The movement reached its peak on Aug 31, 1959, when large number of processions converged into a huge rally in the central part of the city leading to a severe police baton charge.
The leftists have claimed that 80 persons had died in police atrocities on that day, but other political parties dispute the figure.
The Food Movement was one of the many agitations organised by the leftists through the 1950s and 1960s to mobilise the masses leading to the installation of two United Front governments in 1967 and 1969 and finally the uninterrupted rule of the Left Front since 1977.