Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kolkata walks for peace in Nandigram

The Times of India

15 Nov 2007, 0147 hrs IST,TNN

KOLKATA: It was a procession Kolkata had never seen before. Lines from "We shall overcome", a staple of the Left movement, rent the air. But there was no sloganeering, no shouting.

Neither was there any political baggage. Thousands on Wednesday joined hands to march in the rally called by Left-leaning intellectuals to protest against CPM's violent re-capture of Nandigram.

For many, it signified a break from the past. Faces of artists, thespians and writers one would expect to see in a Left rally were holding posters condemning the government and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

"We haven't deviated from Leftist ideology. It is the government which has turned fascist," said playwright Bibhas Chakraborty.

But the biggest surprise was the presence of Mrinal Sen. The filmmaker, one of the staunchest supporters of Left policy, marched for just five minutes. But in those five minutes, he crossed a barrier not just ideological, but personal as well.

Flanked by filmmakers Goutam Ghosh and Anjan Dutta, Sen was waiting on the pavement near the Kolkata Municipal Corporation as the rally neared the end of its destination. There was loud cheering as Sen, known to be close to Bhattacharjee, slowly walked to join the rest.

Asked to comment on friends like Sen and others in the artist and intellectual fraternity turning hostile, Bhattacharjee replied philosophically, saying change was inevitable in life.

"I've heard about it. I have seen many ups and downs. Only time will tell if there is any significance in this. The good relations that I shared with many of them will remain. I've kept watch and I am aware of what's going on where," Bhattacharjee said.

Earlier in the day, the ranks of the rallyists swelled as Bengali playwrights, painters, poets, actors, filmmakers, teachers, doctors, students, executives and common men streamed into College Square, from where the rally began.

Filmmakers Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh, playwrights Bibhas Chakraborty, Kaushik Sen and Saonli Mitra, poet Joy Goswami and artists Suvaprasanna and Sanatan Dinda stood with hundreds of others as those marching ahead argued with the police to let them pass. Writer Mahasweta Devi also joined them.

The rally took the route that scores of other processions take nearly every day in Kolkata. It went straight till the SN Banerjee Road-Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road crossing before turning right towards Esplanade. It took the procession about three hours to cover the 3.5-km stretch. By then the ranks had swelled to over 50,000.

"The turnout was spontaneous. It is time for all political parties to drop arms and work for peace," said Goutam Ghosh.

In a counter-move, a section of intellectuals will organise a rally in support of the government on Thursday. Does this mean that polarisation of the intelligentsia in Bengal is complete? "There is no question of polarisation. We don't support what the CM has said. That's why we have taken to the streets. Time will decide who are the real Leftists," said poet Shankha Ghosh.