Members of the DYFI try to break through a police barricade on JL Nehru Road during their march against American ‘imperialism’ on Thursday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Mamata Banerjee’s police force saved American “imperialism” the blushes on Thursday afternoon as a section of Calcutta’s protest brigade rediscovered its voice against samrajjobad.
Deposit scams, rising prices, women’s safety — a range of issues had almost sidelined the whipping boy of the city’s “cholbe na” class until US-based diplomat Devyani Khobragade restored it to its rightful place on the protest agenda.
Supporters of the Congress and CPM youth wings marched towards the American consulate on Ho Chi Minh Sarani and the American Center on Chowringhee Road in protest against Khobragde’s arrest on visa fraud charges.
“Pentagon-ey kaman daago (train your cannons on the Pentagon),” the protesters chanted.
Some even demanded to know why chief minister Mamata hadn’t taken a leaf out of Delhi’s book of diplomacy and removed the barricades in front of the consulate.
But none could progress beyond the human barricade of about three dozen police officers, led by deputy commissioner (south) Murli Dhar. The cops had lined up on the road along the Middleton Street crossing long before the Congress protesters commenced their march towards the consulate around 3pm.
“Unke liye toh hum hi America hain. Hum aage badhne denge tabhi woh badh payenge (To them we are America. They can proceed only if we allow them to),” said a battle-ready officer on duty at JL Nehru Road.
About half-a-kilometre away, a contingent of similar strength, led by deputy commissioner (central) D.P. Singh, was waiting for the DYFI protest rally to start from Lenin Sarani.
Half-an-hour and 89 arrests later, the “imperialism of Uncle Sam” had much to thank Calcutta police for.
“Devyani’s arrest is an insult to the country and a human rights violation. How can we take it lying down?” said Mala Banerjee, chairperson of the human rights wing of the state Congress.
The Congress rally drew 17 supporters, half the number of police officers brought in to foil their march.
Officers had been requisitioned from various police stations of south Calcutta, including Kalighat, Bhowanipore and Shakespeare Sarani, in anticipation of a larger group of protesters.
The protesters may not have been able to march to the consulate, but they more than made up for it with high-pitched sloganeering on the lines of “America-r dadagiri cholchhe na, cholbe na (America’s bullying won’t be allowed)” and “Samrajjobad-er kaalo hath bhenge dao, guriye dao (Crush the black hand of imperialism)”. The group was packed off in a police van from in front of Elliot Park.
About 200 metres north, the DYFI came up with more variety while marching down Esplanade.
“Markin samrajjobaad-er biruddhe dago dago kaman dago, Pentagon-e kaman dago (Train your cannons against American imperialism. Train them against the Pentagon)!” they screamed.
While such passionate sloganeering transported many back to a different age of protest, one name promptly evoked the present. “Mamata Banerjee, jabab chai jabab dao (Mamata Banerjee, we want answers),” the group shouted in unison.
“What is keeping Mamata from lifting the barricades outside the consulate when Delhi has done it?” demanded Subhasish, a DYFI member in the 200-strong crowd
The police arrested 72 of them when they tried to break through the barricades at the Sudder Street-JL Nehru Road crossing. Subhasish was not among them. As some protesters were being pushed into a police van, he slinked away.