Bengal’s big sis was at the receiving end of police brutalities as I had witnessed it closely as a journalist covering her at many places during her Opposition years. I still recall her writhing in pain at a private hospital with bandaged head and limbs or the pandemonium when she was being dragged out of the then state government headquarters, Writers Building where she tried to hold dharnas in front of Jyoti Basu’s chamber. Umpteen times she was thrashed or forcibly removed when she had laid siege to police and administrative offices to protest against CPM-police combine.
That’s why her blatant misuse of police and party minions today to muzzle and maim the opposition including the independent civil society protesters who are not her electoral rivals is more appalling. In her first term since 2011, she had no qualm in using the dreaded central anti-terror law UAPA and colonial sedition charges as well as recent cyber-crime law against her friends-turned foes, Maoists as well as CPM and Congress leaders and supporters respectively. Now, her administration and police is systematically denying permission for holding their public rallies on one pretext or another while all prime protest spaces in Kolkata are generally reserved for her party, Trinamool Congress. Police excesses on non- ruling party forces at slightest provocations, particularly on rival non-BJP forces have become a new normal.
A secular Yogi-raj for non-TMC forces?
Examples are galore and the message is unmistakable. Bengal police refused permission to the CPM rallies in which Aishe Ghosh, the JNU student leader from SFI who had been bloodied by the Sanghi goons at her campus in Delhi participated. Several Left student and youth marches, organized mainly against Modi-Shah regime’s pro-corporate and communal policies met the same refusal or police crackdown at slightest provocations. TMC gunmen killed two supporters of a local protest group supported by Left-Congress in Muslim-majority Murshidabad district in January this year.
TMC-Police combine has continued to obstruct the rallies by Joint Forum against NRC, a non-party activist group led by CPM rebel Prasenjit Bose. The Forum’s Hindu-Muslim youth together had initiated a statewide rural campaign in November-December last year that ended in Kolkata involving former JNU student leader Kanhiya Kumar, dissident IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan among others even before the CAA was passed.
She is also suspicious and vindictive to activists of other anti-CAA groups including NO NRC Movement and Bengal against NRC. They have hit the streets in thousands in last three months underlining the rainbow color of multi-faith citizens’ protest across the age and gender lines as well as social-political dividers. Similar was the defiant mood of all non-party forums during Modi’s visit to Kolkata in January. Neither Mamata-led TMC rallies nor the Left Front and Congress mobilizations could match the sheer variety and spontaneity of the participants in these rallies and their creative impulses in coining slogans and graffiti, songs and poetries.
Waving national flag, these rallies have celebrated the spirit of diversity in our freedom struggle while connecting today’s generation to the icons of tribal and Dalit as well as students-youth and peasants- workers movements of that era. A large number of Muslim men and women in their traditional dresses joined in highlighting the constitutional principles.
It was these groups who had upped their ante against the integral link between the NRC and NPR much before all the anti-BJP parties including TMC. Mamata had initially opposed CAA-NRC but notified her administrative support to the NPR considering it a part of innocuous Census operation. She has changed her mind later under pressure from the streets. But the activists are still worried since she is yet to withdraw the state government’s notification for implementation of NPR in Bengal. Herself a street-fighter, Mamata does not like to be amended by or being perceived as vulnerable to pressures from rival or disloyal forces.
Mamata’s Ego trips
Further, a section of Naxalite students from Jadavpur University tried to force a breach in the security cordon in the vicinity of Raj Bhavan where TMC supporters had also been protesting during Modi’s visit. They triggered a public spat with the chief minister as they accused her of having a ‘setting’ with the Prime Minister since she had met him before attending to her party’s protest. She defended the meeting rightly by calling it a constitutional and protocol obligation. But never known for her tolerance to public criticism, she took the censure from far left students as a personal affront. Who says Modi alone suffers from Megalomania and malevolence?
So activists of these groups have been picked up by the police under one pretext or another since then and stopped from holding their independent campaigns. Latest being the arrest of a young cine and street drama actor, ostensibly for failing to appear before court in connection to a protest against Kamduni rape and murder that had rocked her first term.
Our violence Vs their violence
Another example is the disproportionate police brutalities against the anti-CAA/NRC students and youth groups after they had demonstrated against the arrests at the Kolkata book fair and Bidhannagar north police station in early February. Police offensive did not spare girls as well as elderly men and women who had intervened. The arrested persons including a young law professor and a singer were assaulted and abused mercilessly even inside the police custody.
Ironically enough, the activists’ clash did not begin with police but with BJP and other Sangh supporters who had assembled at their book stalls evidently to show their muscle power. But no saffron men were arrested. Media reported that some activists had assaulted a police woman during their demonstration against arrests earlier in the day.
I do not support either violence. If the activists had broken the law and norms of democratic protests, they could have been treated differently under the law. But as a journalist I was witness to far more serious violence and vandalism by Mamata and her minions at police stations, government offices and inside the state assembly only a decade ago. There are few takers for her new-found love for responsible, non-violent and lawful protests given her track record. Incidents of TMC men ransacking police stations or attacking police elsewhere have been happening even after Mamata has assumed office.
Woolly-headed Radicals and their tunnel vision
I strongly feel that the anti-CAA activists should have avoided the clashes at the Book Fair. It was more important for them to go for a diligent campaign among people who had thronged the fair on the Sangh’s sinister design to impose religion-based citizenship than to waste their energy for a brawl with the saffron diehards. Secondly, it’s gravely wrong to assume that all BJP supporters are converts to Sangh ideology as many of Left and Congress men and women too have taken the saffron shelter to save their skin against TMC intimidation. This change of political allegiance under duress has been a perpetual feature of Bengal politics, particularly in rural areas.
Also I know that the radical Left boys and girls often tend to conflate between their desired situation and given social-political reality. They also dogmatically stick to their hair-splitting differences even among themselves which is one of the reasons of their marginalization and fragmentation. The problem is more with their grey-haired leaders who still see revolution round the corner. They offer nuances over WWII-era call to united front against Fascism but refuse to acknowledge the roles of non-BJP parties against homegrown fascists today. Notwithstanding the legitimate criticism of the opposition’s half-hearted and opportunist roles in the parliament, the radicals of all hues are far away from being determining factors for greater mobilizations against the Modi-Shah regime.
Nevertheless, they refuse to appreciate Mamata’s pioneering role as a non-BJP chief minister in opposing the new citizenship matrix and belittle her efforts to build public opinion by her party mobilizations. This only underlines the pathetic lack of their understanding of the challenges ahead and overestimation of their own strength. Similarly wrong is their disdain to CPM despite bitter memories of its coercive rule till a decade ago.
None of Congress, CPM or TMC misdeeds would surpass what we are experiencing in terms of total subversion of all constitutional institutions of democratic and secular India and rapid destructions of their guiding principles under BJP. True, there are many colonial hangovers and contradictory guidelines in our constitution and the structures of our body polity. But the immediate task is to save what generations of Indians have achieved after hard battles.
After Modi-Shah duo’s refusal to rollback their RSS-ordained steps towards Hindu Rastra, Delhi riots has revealed the ominous sign of a design to foment communal frenzy in order to derail the multi-faith public protests across the country. India is really at a historic crossroad. But the mutual bickering and ego trips by the non-BJP forces; by the political parties or civil society groups, are only making the challenges ahead more difficult for ‘we the people’. Will they listen to us before it is too late?