Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee was left red-faced at her first rally here on Wednesday as social activist Anna Hazare stood her up at the very last minute, apparently disappointed by the thin crowd at the event.
Officially, the Trinamool leadership maintained Hazare had opted out because of a throat infection. But the 76-year-old Gandhian, camping just 4km away from the Ramlila Maidan venue, reportedly told party general secretary Mukul Roy that he’d earlier gathered lakhs of supporters at the grounds — an apparent reference to the lokpal movement in 2011 — and couldn’t address just a few thousand people.
“He sent a message asking me to leave for the venue , saying he would follow. But while I was on my way, he took a U-turn back to Maharashtra Sadan,” Mamata later told us.
Putting the blame squarely on Hazare, she asserted, twice, at the rally, “This was not my rally. This was organised by Annaji. I left important work in my state to come to Delhi only because he invited me. I kept my promise.”
“We did not plan this meeting. When we plan meetings in Kolkata, we gather 50 lakh people,” she added.
Hazare’s no-show came weeks after he declared Mamata “the most suitable prime ministerial candidate”. His aides reportedly warned him that he may come under political attack for associating with the Trinamool, whose top functionaries are facing corruption allegations — notably in the recent chit fund scam. “We raised the issue of his credibility getting compromised,” said one aide.
On the other hand, some in the Trinamool alleged Hazare had met Congress leaders on Tuesday as well as the BJP’s new recruit, former army chief VK Singh.
Hazare kept the Trinamool hanging till the last minute. Party emissaries met him at 9.30am and he assured them he was coming. Minutes later, his team briefed Hazare on the adverse consequences of taking part in a poorly attended rally. Asked to conduct a spot check, a team reached Ramlila Maidan — where the rally was scheduled to start at 12 noon — and reported back saying there were not more than 1,000 people.
Even close to 1.45pm — the event had already been delayed with organisers desperately stretching the performance of the musical bands — Hazare told Mamata to go ahead. She reached the venue, only to be told he wouldn’t be coming after all.
The rally finally got going at 2pm in an almost deserted venue where most of the 22,000 chairs laid out remained unoccupied.
The flop show is a big blow to Mamata’s national ambitions. But putting up a brave front, the Bengal CM —who is trying to stitch together a non-Congress, non-BJP ‘federal front’ — said she would go ahead with her plans to hold rallies in Gujarat and other states.
Late in the evening, a doctor told reporters Hazare had a chest congestion but was otherwise fine. He is expected to attend a day-long meeting with activists at the Constitutional Club on Thursday to select independent candidates he would be backing in the Lok Sabha elections.