First it was Rahul Gandhi, then came Sonia Gandhi and now Manmohan Singh.
The top Congress leaders have unleashed a relentless attack on the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal. They have identified the weak spot in the Left defence, the otherwise favourite agenda of the Left: the development work for the poor. They came and addressed the people of people of the state and raised questions about the 'poor performance' of the Left government in various programmes for rural development.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a rally today at Howrah in support of Trinamool Congress candidates of Howrah, Uluberia and Srirampur. He shared the dais with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. In the last one week, Congress heavyweights have been making frequent visits to the state. Rahul Gandhi came and attacked the Left saying that under the front's rule, Purulia district remained the most backward in the country.
Last Sunday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi jointly addressed a rally at Lalgola with Banerjee and criticised the Left for its poor execution of the Centre's flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), popularly known as 100 days' employment for the rural poor. Sonia also rubbed on the Left's raw wound of Nandigram and Singur fiasco.
The soft-spoken prime minister in his own inimitable way reminded that the Left in West Bengal had nothing to complain about the Congress-led UPA government as the Centre had always extended a helping hand for the state's overall development. He reminded that during the last five years, the Centre had sanctioned Rs 5,000 crore for the East-West corridor of Kolkata Metro, another Rs 1,850 crore for the central public sector undertakings in the state, and many other development projects.
At the same time, he mildly rebuked the Left for not being able to implement various centrally-funded poverty alleviation programmes in rural Bengal. Echoing the slogan given by Banerjee for a change here, Singh said the people should now bring the change here to speed up the development of the state.
Unlike previous occasions, this time the Left's response to the criticism leveled against it by the PM has been rather mute. CPI(M) state secretary Biman Bose and other leaders were busy campaigning for their candidates.
According to CPI(M) officials in party's state headquarters, the party has not yet reacted. But one member of the CPI(M) state committee said that the party would examine the PM's speech and would then come out with its reaction.
But already the Left has been critically engaged by the Congress leaders on the question of bringing development to the poorest of the poor in rural Bengal.
Earlier last month in Delhi, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was also present in the meeting with the PM at Howrah, realesed a report card on the Left Front's poor performance in Bengal. That was immediately challenged by state Finance Minister Ashim Dasgupta. CPI(M) state unit secretary Biman Bose commented that Pranab Mukherjee was forced to rely on wrong data to malign the Left in Bengal at the behest of his party. But today, the PM reiterated his position saying that "I am in full agreement with the report card".
But what irked the Left most were the comments made by Rahul Gandhi. Like his father the late Rajiv Gandhi, he became the instant centre of controversy in his first major political assignment in the state. Late Rajiv Gandhi's comments that "Calcutta is a dying city" and "Congress victory in Bengal would force Jyoti Basu to retire from politics" were
fully utilised by the CPI(M) in Bengal during elections in 1987 by whipping up the 'Bengali Asmita'. Now, Rahul's comment about the abject poverty and neglect in rural Bengal provoked CPI(M) leaders to get into a similar act.
Sitaram Yechury, the CPI(M)'s Rajya Sabha member from West Bengal, had warned that like his father Rahul would also be rejected by the people of the state. The CPI(M)'s state party organ 'Ganashakti' brought out a detailed report comparing Purulia's development with that of Amethi.
While the CPI(M) also tried to belittle the allegations made by Rahul saying he was too inexperienced to talk about that, the party did not react to Sonia's accusations. The Left leaders have been careful to avoid any debate on the land-related issue in Nandigram and Singur during campaigning. That's why they avoided responding to Sonia's attacks.
While Sonia took on the Left for its "anti-farmer" stance in Nandigram and Singur, the PM accused the Left of dividing the secular force and its votes. "I don't think the Third Front has any chance of forming the government. Congress-UPA is much ahead of others in the race. But the Left is trying to split the secular votes," he claimed.