Friday, November 16, 2007

Rallying support, either way

The Statesman

Statesman News Service
KOLKATA, Nov. 15: One rally was buoyed by star power, another by religion as both called for peace to return to Nandigram. But while one was in support of the powers-that-be, the other was in condemnation of the CPI-M and the chief minister.
A rally comprising Leftist intellectuals, artistes, film and theatre personalities and students wasn’t as large or spontaneous as yesterday’s people’s protest against the CPI-M’s strategy to “recapture” Nandigram. But it had heavyweight star visitors, such as Bengal’s most prized export to the Mumbai film industry ~ Mithun Chakraborty ~ and Soumitra Chattopadhyay among others. Chakraborty, however, did not speak in the same voice as the party’s most staunch supporters.
In another rally, approximately 60,000 Muslim representatives from across the state gathered at Esplanade this afternoon to attend a meeting called by Milli Ittehad Parishad. The rally was organised to protest against the government’s role in Nandigram as well as on the issue of Rizwanur and granting asylum to noted Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. The protestors also burned Nasreen in effigy at Dorina Crossing. Mr Siddiqullah Chowdhury, convenor of the meeting, said: “The chief minister should have resigned immediately after what his cadres did at Nandigram.” On Friday, the city will virtually come to a halt as 12 different Muslim organisations have unanimously called to paralyse the state for four hours from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Mr Chowdhury also declared that on 24 November, Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind supporters would march to Nandigram and he also appealed to other political parties to join them.
Mr Sultan Ahmed, Trinamul Congress leader, who was also present at the meeting, appealed to the masses to dislodge the Left Front government to end the atrocities of CPI-M cadres. He also held the state government responsible for police excesses in the Rizwanur case.
Mr Chowdhury also said that Sachar committee report showed how the Muslims are neglected by the state government. He and other leaders have demanded that Urdu be accepted as an official language and that the state government should pass the bill in Assembly for this to be recognised. Leaders of the minority community demanded that the state government should recommend to the Centre that Tasleema Nasreen’s visa should not be extended.
At the Leftist intellectuals’ rally, actor Mithun Chakraborty put a damper on the crowd’s initial euphoria over his presence with his apolitical words. “I am not a politician and have nothing to do with politics. I am strongly against violence and any perpetrator of violence, no matter who that may be. I only stand for West Bengal,” the actor said to people who gathered in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue at one end of Mayo Road after participating in a rather thinly-attended rally that started around 4.30 p.m. from opposite the Cricket Association of Bengal’s office. One rally participant was heard saying disgustedly to another: “Mithun simply saved his skin by avoiding strong words. What does he mean by saying he is not for any political party?”
Almost all the intellectuals and artistes who spoke to the assembled crowd said they wanted peace to return to Nandigram, and urged those who had become homeless in the events that have been taking place since 3 November, to return home. Soumitra Chattopadhyay said: “Many people have been able to return home, those who had been displaced earlier. Now we must call back all those who are still homeless.”
Filmmaker Tarun Majumdar said he wanted all the homeless to be able to come back to Nandigram. “I simply want peace to return to Nandigram. I hope all of you want the same,” he added. Chuni Goswami urged people in Nandigram to forget the past, put differences behind them and come back to their homes, while magician PC Sircar Junior said the “left hand should stop fighting with the right hand.” Mayor Mr Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said he had come to the rally as a citizen, and not the mayor of Kolkata.
He urged those present in the rally not to be swayed by “lies being circulated by the media” and said there was no move for land acquisition in Nandigram.
Other artistes and intellectuals who attended the rally were Utpalendu Chowdhury, Badshah Mitra, Rupankar, Biplab Chattopadhay, Usha Ganguly, Raja Sen, Wasim Kapoor, and others.

The Telegraph

Contrast marks the twins

Calcutta witnessed two processions on two days — one starry, apolitical and silent, the other starry, state-backed and gimmicky. Metro was in both to spot the differences — and one curious commonality.

Crowd count

Wednesday: At least 60,000 people marched from College Square to Esplanade to protest the lawlessness in Nandigram. Volunteers in the silent procession put the figure closer to the 100,000 mark.

Thursday: The number of participants at the rally for “peace and development of Bengal” from Eden Gardens to the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road fell short by a zero (6,000), according to unofficial estimates, while the official police figure stood at 15,000.

Police presence

Wednesday: As the procession prepared to start from College Street at 1pm, it found its path blocked by normal weekday traffic.

The police had taken no steps to allow smooth passage to the silent march. Finally, the sheer numbers forced traffic to part. Police presence was paltry. Traffic snarls were localised.

Thursday: At least 500 policemen, led by deputy commissioner (south) Jawed Shamim, were on duty hours before flag-off at 4pm. Traffic along parts of Park Street, Chowringhee, Red Road and Esplanade was diverted and parking zones made no-parking for a few hours to make way for the rally. The traffic snarls spread far and wide.

Sights and sounds

Wednesday: The march was silent, with only a few groups breaking out into “We shall overcome” along the way. At Esplanade, there were a few songs of protest.

Thursday: Song and dance by Adivasi groups, pro-CPM speeches, voices of support for the government, relief at peace returning to Nandigram, ugly comments against some newspapers and TV channels.


Wednesday: Mrinal Sen, Sankha Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Anjan Dutt, Goutam Ghose, Usha Uthup, Mahasveta Devi, Jogen Chowdhury, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Joy Goswami, Bibhas Chakraborty, Suvaprasanna, Mamata Shankar, Saoli Mitra, Koushik Sen, Parambrata Chatterjee, Debleena Dutt...

Thursday: Mrinal Sen, Soumitra Chatterjee, Mithun Chakraborty, Sova Sen, Arindam Sil, Anindita Sarbadhicary, P.K. Banerjee, Subodh Sarkar, Chuni Goswami, P.C. Sorcar (Jr), Usha Ganguly, Biplab Chatterjee...

Common link

Mrinal Sen: “Just because I was at the rally yesterday does not mean that I cannot be at this gathering today,” argued the veteran film-maker on the Mayo Road dais on Thursday. His presence at Wednesday’s rally had raised eyebrows, as he is a Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee favourite and had inaugurated the film festival last week. “I met him (the chief minister) in Nandan (after the rally) for over an hour. He said he was aware of all developments and hugged me. I am all for peace in Bengal,” concluded Sen.