Kolkata: The anti-NRC, CAA protests, which had been marking its presence at 44th International Kolkata Book Fair since its beginning in a muted way, took a violent turn on Saturday when a bunch of protesting students clashed with VHP, BJP supporters and later, were lathicharged by the police.
Eyewitnesses said trouble started when BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha was visiting the Janabarta stall in the evening. At the time few students, chanting slogans against the implementation of CAA passed through the stall. The protesters alleged that some of the BJP-VHP supporters came out of the stall and pushed them aside, leading to jostling and fisticuffs. Later, cops arrived from the nearby control room and lathicharged on the two feuding factions. The protesters were taken away to different police stations in Salt Lake area by the police.
On the incident at the fair in front of the VHP stall, BJP’s Sinha said that the fight over CAA and NRC is between two political parties, The BJP and the TMC. “The students’ forum has nothing to do with this. They are trying to steal the limelight and create more chaos.” On the violence, the BJP national general secretary said, “It will be dealt by the state administration and the party has nothing to do with it.”
A senior lawyer, who was an eyewitness, said that the police on one side was asking the students to talk out the differences but when they did, the policemen reigned blows on them.
No policemen on the spot were willing to talk on the issue.
While the protests were on, Congress MP and author Shashi Tharoor was holding fort inside the SBI auditorium on the other side of the fair. The hall was choc-a-bloc with interested listeners lapping up all the former civil servant had to say about his latest book, The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative. Earlier, the author took part in a discussion with filmmaker Aparna Sen and others on We Are Who We Elect.
Tharoor said, “We were very proud of whom we elected but in the last six months many might have changed their mind as the reality of what the government has turned to has sunk in. We know people changed their mind between 2014 and 2019 and yet they got more votes, more percentage. We have come across many people who in 2014 voted for this government for its promise of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’, who in 2019 said not again. I don’t know many voted for brazenly for the Hindutva agenda, this kind of majoritarian ‘triumphanism’. We are seeing extreme level of polarization in our politics. When we say, ‘who are we’, we are currently a bunch of divided people.”
Talking further on the present national narrative of dividing people on the basis of religion, Tharoor said, “The great magical thing about India was that you can be many things and one; you can be a Bengali, a Muslim and an Indian at the same time. The fact that you are secure in each of the identities because of the overall space of the Indian identity. To take India to the primordial idea of Hindu Rashtra, is an assault on the freedom struggle. There was no division on ideological differences. Mahatma Gandhi, (Jawaharlal) Nehru, (Maulana) Azad, they all said our struggle for freedom is for everyone and write the Constitution with equal rights for everyone. That to me in the fundamental difference of idea of 1940-50 and what is being propagated today.”