In contrast to political parties’ rallies that marked the acrimonies even between anti-BJP forces, the citizens march called by ‘NO CAA NO NRC Movement’, an umbrella forum of activist groups to remember the martyrdom of freedom fighters Ram Prasad Bismil and Asfaqullah Khan recently in Kolkata was different in terms of spontaneity, spirit, plurality and footfall.
As students and youth spearheaded the march, hitherto apolitical rookies in their teens, sceptical middle-aged professionals and veteran political marchers moved together, voicing their indignation against the ‘Urban Nazi’ Modi-Shah duo in an apparent mimic of the BJP top guns who had dubbed such rallies as the handiwork of ‘Urban Naxals’. There are multiple protest rallies and marches every day. Kolkata has become a city of rallies.
The waves of Indian Tricolour in the mammoth gathering was interspersed with red and black flags. The chants of ‘Vande Mataram’ rented the air together with ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.
However, it was the stirring refrains for ‘Azadi’ from the CAA-NRC and economic mess among other ills of the misgovernance, popularised by the JNU students and dubbed an ‘anti-national’ mantra by the saffron brigade, that found more rhythmic resonance with local variations.
Posters and festoons depicting the icons of inclusive India and Bengal, including Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as well as Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, were displayed while others caricatured Modi and Shah as Hitler and Mussolini.
Refrains like 'Ek dhakka aur do, desh torne wale/Bechne wale ko gira do' parodied the Sangh war cries of the Ram Janambhoomi movement. The assertion of national identity irrespective of all divisions was full of ‘Josh’ with slogans like 'Sunle Modi, Sunle Shah, Mera bhi desh hai Hindustan' and ‘Desher janno kobul pran, Hindu ebong Musalman' as well as ‘Bengal belongs to Rabindranath-Nazrul-Lalan Fakir. Who are you’.
The economic plight of common people or ‘Roti-Kapda-Makan’ issues as well as the criticism of the crony corporate raj were underlined with these banters - ‘Garib mere banay desh, Modi aar RSS' and ‘Ambani aar Adani, chalay Modi company (Ambani and Adani run Modi Company)’.
Students wrote on the road - ‘Jaat noy, Bhaat de (Give us rice, not caste)' with ‘No CAA, No NRC’. The watchdog-turned lapdogs in media were also not spared: ‘Modi media sharam Koro, Godi media sharam koro’.
Across the political divide
Post-Partition Bengal has mostly seen secular nationalists of Congress hues and Reds of different denominations at loggerheads, demonising and killing each other during their successive rules. The tradition of competitive hegemony has continued with the TMC and its secular rivals.
But the resurgence of BJP in the state has changed it to tri-corner fight with the Hindutva politics looming larger on the national discourse. The Congress and the Left Front are now joining hands to save their residual space in an increasing bipolar contest between the BJP and the Trinamool. But they are yet to follow the current Kerala model of camaraderie between old rivals as their separate rallies showed.
While many people have been questioning the logic of parallel shows of strength by anti-BJP parties including Trinamool, the Left-Congress leaders have repeatedly blamed Mamata, firstly, for making room for the BJP by poaching into their camps and secondly, by refusing them democratic rights.
They complained that the city police had tried to force other parties and non-party forums to change their march routes to facilitate Mamata's gatherings at the prime protest locations.
In this backdrop, the joining of SFI members from Presidency University (PU) in the non-party rally was significant. “Our ideological-political differences notwithstanding, all secular and democratic forces must unite against Hindutva fascism. This is the clarion call of the hour. We have nothing to lose while the BJP stands to lose in face of this citizens’ resistance,” Souren Mallick, the general secretary of the PU Students Union.
Pointing to the absence of party flags and festoons in the rally, his unit president Debnil Pal added: “This has helped us to join. A united fight against the looming threat of a theocratic state in India must emerge.’” The SFI as well as AISA members later joined the 17-party Left rally at another locality.
Many Naxalites and other Lefts initially felt awkward and confused after not seeing the usual party flags but they finally got mesmerised after witnessing the swelling masses and the spirit of bonhomie across the fault lines.
In contrast, Rabia Khan, an urdu-speaking CA student has no political affiliation. She had marched with Mamata Banerjee’s supporters the other day. “I know many of my co-marchers do not like Mamatadi’s way. But this is not the time for mutual bickering and all should come together against the real anti-national forces,” she said, amid deafening slogans.
Burqua and hijab-clad students from Bowbazar Loreto School marched for the first time today. "I am proud of Bengal that so many non-Muslims have turned up to foil Modi-Shah's design to divide Hindu and Muslims again," Ramsha Mehtab, a student of class XII said. She thanked the Chief Minister for taking a clear stand' against the BJP government and urged other chief ministers to come out on the streets. Many of the marchers later joined Mamata’s youth wing gathering.
Pratima Mazumder, an elderly lady walking with sticks, is not a greenhorn in political rallies. But she no longer cares for political correctness. "I was a leftist in my youth as most of the people of my generation. But now I join rallies that focus on people's cause without partisan motives," she said before moving ahead.
Not only city campuses, but local students from universities in Haryana and Karnataka as well as young professionals too joined in the protest against police brutalities on Jamia Millia Islamia and AMU Students.
Asoka University students, back home in winter break, as well as Bangalore-based students narrated their experiences of campus vigilantism and social media trolls. Members of AMU Old Boys Association came out in numbers from different walks of life. “How can we stay back at home when our children are being brutalised for protesting the sinister laws,” Attaullah Khan, its president said.