Mamata Banerjee leads the procession in south Calcutta on Saturday. (Pradip Sanyal)
Calcutta, May 26: Mamata Banerjee and the Left today hurled commuters from the frying pan of petrol price to the fire of traffic disruptions in stifling heat — all in the name of protesting against hardship to the common man.
People in south and central Calcutta suffered on the streets on a hot and sultry Saturday afternoon as the chief minister led a procession of thousands of Trinamul activists, paralysing traffic for over two hours.
Earlier in the day, CPM youth wing DYFI organised roadblocks at 15 major intersections, including Shyambazar, Moulali, the Jadavpur police station area and Hazra, for 15 minutes from noon.
Around an hour before Mamata’s procession, around 2,000 hawkers brought out a rally in central Calcutta on International Hawkers’ Day. The rally began at 4pm from Subodh Mullick Square and passed through Lenin Sarani, Nirmal Chandra Street and BB Ganguly Street before ending near Phears Lane around 4.45pm.
The chief minister’s procession started from the Jadavpur police station at 5.15pm and ended at the Hazra crossing around 7pm. Around 5,000 Trinamul activists joined the 6.5km march.
The rally moved along one flank of Anwar Shah Road and SP Mukherjee Road as hundreds of policemen struggled to manage the crowd and traffic. Arterial roads and bylanes got choked and thousands of commuters got stranded on the streets in the oppressive heat.
The maximum temperature was 38 degrees Celsius, three notches above normal. The average daytime humidity was around 60 per cent, pushing up the discomfort index — an estimate of the effect of temperature and humidity on the body — to 62.2 degrees Celsius, 7.2 counts above normal.
Traffic movement was affected between 5pm and 7.30pm in and around Jadavpur, Jodhpur Park, Dhakuria, Rabindra Sarobar, Kalighat, Chetla, Gariahat, Lansdowne, Hazra and Bhowanipore.
As a ripple effect, traffic movement became slow in parts of central Calcutta, including JL Nehru Road, AJC Bose Road and Park Circus.
At the end of the march, Mamata thanked her supporters for braving the heat and attending the rally. Before leaving, she said: “Tomorrow, similar processions will be held in every block of the state.”
Commuters spoke of their woes. Priyanka Sirohi, a 19-year-old student who was going to South City Mall to catch a movie with friends but got held up for around 40 minutes on SP Mukherjee Road, said: “I don’t think the Centre cares much about such protest rallies. Why did the chief minister choose to make our lives difficult on a weekend afternoon?”
Suranjana Maitra, a 47-year-old homemaker from Maniktala who got stuck in her car for half an hour on Anwar Shah Road, said: “The rally ruined my Saturday. I have to attend a family get-together at Selimpur from 5pm. I will get late. I had expected the rally to be better-organised. It’s a nightmare in this heat.”
Mamata and her lieutenants, including Mukul Roy, Partha Chatterjee, Madan Mitra and Firhad Hakim, however, braved the heat and smiled and waved at onlookers.
Urban development minister Hakim said: “The chief minister has said she will not destabilise the government. But that doesn’t mean the Centre will take us for granted. We are against the unilateral hike and cannot accept this additional burden on the people.”
“Do you see the turnout? Didi is fighting for the people, for the common man,” sports and transport minister Mitra gushed.
At a foundation-laying ceremony of a seven-storey building of the South Calcutta Law College near Bijon Setu earlier in the day, the chief minister had briefly mentioned the price hike. “Look at the way petrol prices are increasing.”
State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya criticised the march and warned: “Our ministers can also hit the streets to mobilise public opinion against burning issues in the state if Trinamul continues to protest against the Centre at the drop of a hat.”
CPM state secretary Biman Bose dubbed Mamata’s march an “attempt to mislead the people”.