Calcutta, Jan. 16: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will be in town tomorrow, as will be several former heads of state and government from abroad and a clutch of the country’s top businessmen.
The city will be hosting them and some 1,000 delegates to the biggest event on Bengal’s business calendar ' the CII Partnership Summit.
Before they get around to discussing in the evening how great a place this state has become, or is becoming, to do business in, they will be fortunate enough to experience first hand another kind of partnership the city has been nursing for decades ' with political rallies.
In the afternoon, two central ministers, among other stalwarts, will address a meeting smack in the middle of the city at Victoria House where a monster stage befitting their stature took shape today.
The spearhead of the ruling coalition in Delhi ' the Congress, whose leaders have often put the city down for its tradition of rallies and processions ' has chosen this day, when the Confederation of Indian Industry-organised summit kicks off, to display its people power, somewhat depleted over the years.
Posters for the Youth Congress rally contain the names of Pranab Mukherjee, the defence minister, and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the information and broadcasting minister, as possible speakers. The object is to protest Left misrule as the warming up for the coming Assembly polls begins.
It is not clear if the country’s defence minister and the I&B minister are aware that they would be addressing an “illegal” rally because police have not given permission for it.
A senior officer said: “They (Congress) did seek permission from us, but we told them no. But they decided to go ahead and hold it. We can take action against them for holding the rally without permission, but for that the government must tell us in writing.”
The government has not issued any such order. Left leaders are staunch believers in the democratic right to protest that they, and other political parties, have decided among themselves overrides the right to freedom of movement of people.
Just over a week ago, the CPM brought the city to a standstill with a rally, taking almost all buses ' public and private ' off the streets to ferry its supporters to and from the venue. Later, when asked, its transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, announced the government would allow all political parties to hire public buses at 50 per cent discount, which is what the CPM received.
This government is unlikely to order the police to prevent a rally, whoever the organiser.
“We can stop unauthorised meetings in no time, if only there is the right support for such action,” the police officer said on a day a meeting opposite Metro cinema badly disrupted traffic in the afternoon.
This spot and Rani Rashmoni Avenue and Shahid Minar are designated places for rallies. The Congress is flouting even that token rule.
The Congress said permission or no permission, it was more important to protest against the Left Front government’s alleged misrule. Pradip Bhattacharya, the Congress working president, said: “People may suffer a little because of traffic dislocation, but they must also remember the meeting is to highlight their feelings against the government.”
What has led him or the party to believe the people have decided on this form of protest over the more effective one of voting an unpopular government out, an opportunity that will present itself a few months now, is not clear.
The CII, which will try and see that the foreign delegates are kept at arm’s length from the rally, could have done without this “irritant”, particularly as the summit dates had been announced months in advance. “Political parties should use their wisdom to try to change the negative perception about the state. However, one has to live with it in Calcutta,” an industrialist said.
Ironically, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will address the inaugural session where he can be expected to narrate how his government has been trying to change Bengal’s image. The gathering will decide whether the words ring true or not.
As for the “people”, be prepared for the worst. It may even be a good idea to not venture outside tomorrow because the disruptions will start from the morning itself as the President has several engagements.
“We will try to keep the restriction to the minimum on routes through which the President’s convoy will move, but our fear is that the Congress meeting will be more disruptive,” said a police officer.
If it is any consolation, there is a possibility that the defence minister may not take part in an “illegal” rally. Not because of concern for people, but because of contempt for some elements of his party who might be on the dais.