| MEAL STALL: Rice being cooked in a makeshift oven on the Maidan for Sunday afternoon’s rally. Picture by Amit Datta
In a few hours on Sunday, a rally by the CPM’s farmers’ wing inflicted on the lungs of the city almost as much damage as the Book Fair would have caused in two weeks.
Newspaper sheets, plastic cutlery and packets, leftovers of fruits, chicken bones, chulhas — only the youngsters who play on the greens were missing from the Maidan.
The mauling began at the Eden Gardens-end and continued beyond the race course to Victoria Memorial.
The men, women and children who attended the rally by Krishak Sabha arrived at the venue from the districts in buses, minibuses and trucks. The vehicles were left parked on the grass.
The worst-affected pocket was the area near Calcutta Ladies’ Golf Club, where trenches were dug to set up chulhas. The rally participants who turned up on Saturday night or early on Sunday had their meals cooked in the makeshift ovens.
“We prepared alur dum and chicken here. It will be a long journey back home and we had to have a decent meal,” said Shyamal Pahira, from Baikunthapur, in West Midnapore.
Subhas Dutta, whose petition with the high court resulted in the shifting out of the Book Fair to Salt Lake stadium this year, fumed: “The Maidan is not a kitchen or a parking lot. We have decided to file a petition with the high court on Thursday, demanding that a separate venue be earmarked for rallies.”
As leaders held forth on the stage — erected by digging 120 sal poles into the ground — Sunil Das, Malati Saha and others from Bhangor, in South 24-Parganas, gorged on savouries dished out by stalls that had sprung up on the greens overnight, selling everything, from leather belts to Lenin posters.
Some of the participants sauntered to the Fort William boundary wall to relieve themselves. Others opted for the race course periphery. A few scaled the Victoria Memorial boundary walls for a free tour.
“Our security men gave up trying to stop the participants. The grounds were in a mess because of their littering,” said a Victoria Memorial official.
On Saturday night, the early birds had similarly made their way into Eden Gardens.
“I was on leave and will find out what exactly happened. I believe too much is being read into the incident. In the past, delegates have been allowed into the grounds, but I would not like to comment until I visit Eden Gardens,” said police commissioner and Cricket Association of Bengal president Prasun Mukherjee.
As the rally got over around 4 pm on Sunday, the comrades headed home, leaving the food packets behind, prompting an organiser to announce on the loudspeaker: “Packet vat-ey felun (Throw the packets in the vat).” Few paid heed.
The Army didn’t want to comment on the mess. “We will go for a joint inspection while taking over the Maidan from the organisers. We will comment only after that,” said a senior Army officer.