Mamata Banerjee held out an olive branch today to 450-odd aspiring government school teachers who have been on a relay hunger strike in Kolkata for the last 28 days.
"I appeal to you to end the hungerstrike. I cannot make promises right now because of the Election Commission's Model Code of Conduct. But we will tweak laws if needed to solve the problem she said, adding, "Keep the faith."
The Chief Minister had suddenly arrived at the protest venue in front of the Kolkata Press Club around 6 pm. The decision to appeal to the strikers was easily hers alone. Even the Education Minister seemed unaware of it.
At 5 pm, when NDTV asked Mr Partha Chatterjee if he would describe the situation as a deadlock, he said, "For us, nothing is a deadlock. For them it might be. What can I do? Let them sit. I can only pray they stay in good health."
When Ms Banerjee arrived at the strikers' venue, Mr Chatterjee was beside her.
The strikers are expected to hold a meeting to decide their response to Ms Banerjee's appeal.
The 28-day relay hunger strike by the 450 men and women has drawn a lot of public sympathy and the support of rival political parties.
28-year-old Debaki Roy of Asansol has been on hunger strike from 28 February. She sits with her 16-month-old son Aarush, whom she is breastfeeding.
"That's why I could not leave him at home. But then he fell a little ill and went home for a few days but he is back now. We sleep here at night, under a mosquito net, and I will stay here till I get the job I believe I deserve," said Ms Roy, who has a post-graduate degree in Sanskrit from Jadavpur University and a BEd degree as well.
Hers is just one of many horror stories unfolding at the site of the hunger strike. Among those sitting in protest are holders of Masters' degrees in the arts and sciences as well as BEd.
Some took the School Service Commission exam in 2017 to teach classes 9 to 12. But when the results came out, the merit list had them up in arms. It did not give the marks they had got in their written exam, viva and interview.
All they got was a rank - that too with many sharing.
Then irregularities began to be reported - the one that drew most protests was about a name that suddenly appeared on the on the second version of a waitlist. It was not there in the first list. In the second list, the name appeared at the top slot.
It didn't help that the candidate was the daughter of a politician who had just switched from the opposition to the ruling party and was even given ticket for a Lok Sabha seat.
"We want our marks, so we know exactly what our position is on the list. That was the system earlier. Why have they changed it? We suspect only to enable corruption and nepotism," said one of the leaders of the protest.
"The rules have changed," said the education minister. "It is not possible to have all marks on display for 5 lakh candidates. Who will do it? But I am guaranteeing that the jobs are being given on basis of merit only," He added.
The aspiring teachers have not been convinced in the last 28 days. Will Mamata Banerjee's appeal make a difference?
The holder of an MA in Philosophy, also on strike, had a newly married look. She said she had gone one relay hungerstrike since 28 February.
"But my marriage had been fixed so I took four days leave to go get married on the 13th and come back here," she said. "There has been no teacher recruitment for 7 years. I have studied so hard and I am within reach of a job. How can pass up the opportunity? My husband, my in-laws are all supporting me. l want Mamata Banerjee to come here and solve our problem," she said.