Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee today demanded a referendum on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), the two-pronged project to institutionalise religion-based citizenship by Narendra Modi-Amit Shah government at the Centre. She dared the duo to ascertain public opinion on the recently passed controversial act as well as its corollary nationwide NRC that the home minister Shah has been thundering about.
“Go for a referendum if you are so confident of people’s support to your moves on citizenship. See how many people of India would stand by you. If you are not competent, ask the UN or its Human Rights Commission to hold it. No political party need not to intervene in the process. If you are not ready, don’t play with fire”, Mamata said at her party youth rally in Kolkata.
Pointing to the absence of the early avatars of BJP and RSS in the freedom struggle and post colonial development of secular democracy, she urged the people of Hindi heartland and south to come out on the street against BJP’s divisive design’. Referring to the exclusion of 12 lakhs odd Bengali Hindus as well as Gorkhas and Biharis from Assam NRC final list, she called Shah’s bluff that Hindus won’t be affected.
The Left Front and the Congress which had fought recent Bengal polls jointly against TMC and BJP held separate protest rallies in the city against the CAA-NRC. While many commoners have wondered about the rationale behind the fractured opposition to the Modi-Shah regime, Left-Congress leaders, blamed Mamata for making room for BJP by poaching into their camps while refusing them basic democratic rights. They complained that the city police had forced other parties and non-party forums to change their march routes to facilitate Mamata’s gathering at the prime protest location in the city.
Beyond the myopia
Amid this tunnel-visioned tug-of -war for hegemonic space among traditional electoral rivals, a non-party march by concerned citizens across faiths, languages and gender divide marked a much-needed contrast. Political greenhorns in their teens and seasoned middle-aged activists as well as snowhead elders marched together in thousands in response to a call by No NRC No CAA Movement, a joint forum of several non-party groups. Some of city intellectuals who have not sided either with the Left Front nor Mamata camp, too turned up.
But it was students and youths who spearheaded the Protest against the pincer attack on hitherto secular citizenship law and its constitutional cornerstones through creative slogans, graffiti and songs. The participants’ spontaneity and high ‘Josh‘ underlined the anxieties and indignation of cosmopolitan Bengal. The sea of restive humanity, swelled with the waves of Indian tricolor interspersed with the red flags without party tags as well as black flags is not an everyday spectacle in politically pigeonholed Bengal. The chants of ‘Vande Mataram‘ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ rented the air together. The call for ‘Azadi‘ from poverty, unemployment and staggering price-rise, thanks to the economic mess as well as diversionary communal frenzy created by the Sangh Parivar regime through ‘Urban Nazi‘ Shah, reverberated the downtown. Rappers and folk singers lent voices to the existential crisis of millions in Assam whose nightmares are yet to over. Priya Kar, one of the participant carried a poster that said: How do you dare to say Muslims are not Indians.
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 Mamata Banerjee for taking a ‘clear stand’ against BJP government and urged other chief ministers to come out on the streets. Pratima Mazumder, an elderly lady walking with sticks is no rookie to political rallies. But she no longer cares for political correctness. “I was a leftist in my youth. But now I join rallies that focus on people’s cause in right earnest,” she said before moving ahead.
Undaunted by the lung power of the youth who raised slogans like ‘Ek Dhakka Aur Do, Desh Torne Wale Ko Gira Do’ and ‘Shunle Modi , Shunle Shah, Mera Bhi Desh Hai Hindusta,’ two class III siblings Farhan and Alia from nearby slums raised their voice: ‘Garib mere Banay desh, Modi Aur RSS‘. Students who wrote on the road– Jaat nay, Bhaat d’ cheered them.
Not only the city campuses, but local students from universities in Haryana and Karnaka as well as young professionals too joined in protest against police brutalities on Jamia Milia and AMU Students. Asoka university student s in winter break as well as Bangalore-based students narrated their experiences of campus vigilantism and social media trolls. “If they can manhandle and detain noted intellectuals like Ramchandra Guha, they can do anything to us. Still we will oppose,” said Manjushree, a tech city professional who did not share her full name fearing troubles. She smiled self-assuringly when a group of fellow travellers surged ahead in the rhythms of dafli: ‘Desher Janno Kobul Pran, Hindu Ebong Musulman.’