No melody of endearing 'Mera Nam Chin Chin Chu' of 1958 Bollywood vintage greeted prime minister Narendra Modi during his Inauguration of light and sound spectacle at Howrah Bridge 2020, the Raj-era iconic landmark of Kolkata as well as his cruise to Belur Math of RamKrisna Mission on the other bank of river Hoogly on Saturday evening.
Instead, the city downtown and many of its main arteries were choked with the protest demonstrations rending the air with the unanimous cry- 'Go back Modi! Down with Indian Hitler!'
The Saturday night fever of the City of Joy on the first evening of Modi's sojourn was of a forgotten kind. It inspired many left-leaning student and youth to stand night guard on the wicket for the battle next day, not far from the cricket heaven of Eden Garden at the center of the city, in opposition to the new age of Fascism in India.
Exposed to the elements in a very cold night, they kept circling around the area asking aloud the 'guest' to leave. Many veterans of Bengal politics could not remember any such unwelcoming slogans towards a serving Indian prime minister in last seven decades. Such anger was memorably vented during the 1968 visit of Robert S McNamara, the US Defense secretary during Vietnam War.
Kolkata is not exactly witnessing the rebirth of those heydays of the international student uprisings against the prevalent world order as well as anti-imperialist liberation struggles.
But their freewheeling spirit of revolt and hope, mixed with a rekindled nationalist spirit of the freedom struggle has caught the imagination of a new generation, courtesy, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as well as its two other hyphenated projects of the new religion-based nationality regime, National Register Citizens(NRC) and National Population Register(NPR).
Even the rusted minds can't ignore the spirit anymore. Modi's ongoing two-day tour in the city of Vivekananda-Tagore-Netaji, the icons of Bengal as well Indian consciousness whom the Sangh Parivar now keen to misappropriate to their sectarian ends, has added fuel to the fire.
Loosely segregated by police cordons at the city’s Jantar Mantar, both Mamata’s Trinamool Congress boys as well as Left student groups that included ideologically rancorous cousins CPM and Naxalites, waved the national tricolors in numbers.
Lefts and liberals who were assembled in a larger number had also unfurled red, black as well as rainbow flags underlining the seemingly seamless ideological and political plurality now evident across the country at the police barricades against the religion-based citizenship regime imposed the Saffron government. State Congress youth and students also held separate agitations.
Slogans as well as street graffiti in Bengali and English as well as Hindi marked more new than old expressions of dissent and public rage-- 'We reject Gujarat Model in India', 'No Pasaran to the Fascists', 'End the siege on Kashmir', 'Sangh's Hindu Rastra-- Not in our names', 'Remember Gouri Lankesh, Narendra Davolkar, Gobind Pansare and MS Kalburgi' as well 'CAA-NRC- lagiye,Modi-Shah diyeche Yuddha Badhiye ( Modi-Shah duo has ignited a civil war by CAA-NRC), 'what were the crimes of Phelu Khan and Md. Afrajul? Mamata's Trinamool Congress rally too rented the air with slogans-- 'proyojone debo ek nadi rakta, hobo na ko BJP-Bhakta (we will give a river of blood but will never become BJP followers)' as well as, 'Gandhibad, Rabindrabad, Subhasbad Jindabad'.
Now ubiquitous song for Azadi, which has traveled Kolkata and Kanyakumarika from Kashmir was commonplace at the Left rally city's Shahinbag--Park Circus.
"Now that Modi-Shah has turned India into Kashmir, it is natural', Souyma Sahin, an law-teacher said. Debasis Bhattacharya, a retired private sector employee, remembered that many generations have never sung 'Gana Ganna Mana', the national anthem with such reverence and poignancy without school strictures and cine hall compulsions. " These dark forces have redeemed a moribund feeling among all of us,'' wistfully he said.
Md. Selim and his friends, all New market shopkeepers who had never participated in any political rallies at the downtown stood there with black flags and photos of the victims of saffron tyranny and the martyrs who fought against it. " We have come to save the constitution', he said.
A New political matrix is emerging in Bengal too
Veteran observers did not recall when the last time students had tried to breach the police barricade to reach the high-security Governor's house where the PM was housed first and later met his friend-turned-foe, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Neither it was commonplace in history that a CM would address her party rally immediately after the VVIP meet, a stones' throw away from the venue, asking vociferously her student supporters to oppose the PM and his party.
Nor it was a regular in contemporary Bengal politics that she would have to rush back at the same place to face another group of radical students who did not like her meeting with the PM and putting blockade to their march to Raj Bhavan. Bengal’s big sis apparently had never expected a ‘Go Back’ in her home turf as the irate youth accused her of harboring a ‘secret deal’ with their common bête noire at the Centre.
The epitome of the street protest herself had a tough time to tame the enraged boys and girls as she explained her ‘constitutional obligations and protocol bindings.’ She wore a quick succession of emotions- patience, anger, exasperation and compulsion while asking the greenhorns not to teach her the methods of mass agitations but also urging them 'not to break peace and fight a friendly state police as your movement is our movement'.
Mamata had tried to even on political and constitutional front as it has ensured Modi's entry and movement in the city by barricading the airport approachway as well as the entire BBD Bag and Esplanade-Chouringee with huge deployment of police force with water-cannons but little firearms.
After a visibly cold meeting between the two, she told media about the state demands of Rs around 38 lakhs crores on different accounts which she said PM would look into after his return to Delhi. More pressingly, she said that Modi to reconsider the CAA since the state would not implement it or its corollary NRC and NPR. Modi reportedly skirted the issue saying he had come to attend different function.
Ironically, Mamata vented her ire more, albeit obliquely on the state Congress and the Left Front as well as other forces including Muslim groups which are not aligned to her in the anti-BJP space in West Bengal. She called them 'BJP agents' referring to the arson and violence in some parts of north Bengal during the Bharat bandh on January 8, called by the labor unions on economic as well as citizenship issues that the Cong-Left combine had supported but she did not.
Mamata's message was simple: Don't put me in constitutional troubles by resorting to violence when my government and police are allowing to you protest against BJP. "Go to Delhi, if you want to fight police on the streets', she said.
But Lefts and Congress as well as Naxalites reminded the chief minister of her own violent performances during her opposition avatars. They blamed her for trying to hegemonize entire opposition space even when in power only to ensure her complete control of the state, a la Modi.
As she claimed to be first naysayer to the CAA-NRC-NPR and flaunted her street-smart decades to be the sole spokesperson for Bengal, they contested her credentials in view of her role in facilitating BJP in her NDA years. Her suspected 'deal' with Modi-Shah on Sarada-Narada corruption cases is a more recurrent complaint now after she has declined join the opposition meet in Delhi on January 13.
But the fear still plagues many a mind that this 'Tu Tu Mai Mai' among secular parties would mar the swelling public mood against the sinister Sangh design on citizenship and help BJP in the assembly polls in 2021.