New Delhi/Kolkata: The much-hyped joint rally of Anna Hazare and Mamata Banerjee in Delhi, seen as an attempt to pitchfork the West Bengal chief minister on the national stage, flopped Wednesday, with the Gandhian staying away and only a few hundred people turning up at the sprawling Ramlila Maidan.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. File pic
Banerjee looked a forlorn figure on the stage where seating arrangements had been made only for her and Hazare, who only last month extended his support to her for the Lok Sabha election.
A Hazare aide said he was unwell but also claimed that the anti-corruption crusader would have attended the rally had it drawn at least 10,000 people.
In a clear signal that the Banerjee-Hazare bonhomie could be over soon, the two camps blamed one another for the poor show.
Hazare aide Sunita Godara said Hazare was "in very bad health. He has congestion.
"A rally needs elaborate preparation. It has to be organised on a holiday, in the evening, and after proper canvassing. The heat is too much today (Wednesday)," Godara said.
Banerjee, who tried to put up a brave front, told the thin crowd and later the media that this was not a Trinamool event and declared her party would fight the Lok Sabha battle alone.
In a Facebook post, Banerjee said she was aware of her "limitations... It is possible he is not well... I do not want to blame anybody".
Hazare's absence came as an anti-climax after the hectic build-up over the past week when posters of the two leaders were put up on some Delhi Metro railway pillars and other parts of the national capital.
The opposition in West Bengal lost no time in taking digs at the Trinamool and its leader.
"We are used to such jokes involving Mamata Banerjee. I don't know what more lies in store. She is a master in making volte faces. Only yesterday she said it is 'our meeting'. Today she says it was Anna's meeting," said state Congress leader Abdul Mannan.
State BJP president Rahul Sinha was more hard hitting.
"This is what happens when you get too big for your boots. The chief minister is day dreaming about becoming prime minister."
CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechuri said Hazare stayed away because he realised that his anti-corruption crusade would have lost credibility in Banerjee's company.
"What has happened was bound to happen. Every person has the right to live in her world of dream. She also has the right. But now the difference between the dream and the reaility has come into the open."