A CPM rally blocked the heart of Calcutta for nearly two hours on Wednesday afternoon, portending the road-chokers lined up in an election year.
Police sources told Metro that at least eight more road-hog rallies and processions, including a government-sponsored one, are scheduled this month.
Though most of the rallies will be held on Rani Rashmoni Avenue, there is always a possibility of crowds spilling on to the Dorina crossing. Any blockade, like the one on Wednesday, at the Dorina crossing in Esplanade — the intersection of Chowringhee Road and SN Banerjee Road — affects at least 20 major roads spread over 5sq km.
“If you shut down Esplanade for even an hour, the entire traffic movement of north and central Calcutta and parts of south goes for a toss,” said an IPS officer.
Commuters would nod in agreement. Amalendu De, a web designer, was caught in the snarl on CR Avenue. “It took me 25 minutes to reach the Ganesh Chandra Avenue crossing from Bowbazar. It takes five minutes on a normal day. From there, I found that CR Avenue was blocked and only rally-bound vehicles were allowed to enter,” he said.
De had to take a detour via Wellington Square, meaning delay and extra fuel burn. “I finally reached Park Street another 20 minutes later,” he said, eyeing the fuel gauge of his two-wheeler.
He was forced to take a long and roundabout route because CPM supporters had blocked the Dorina crossing.
Police sources said the crossing was closed to traffic from 2.40pm to 4.25pm. Long before that, RR Avenue was off limits for public transport because CPM supporters were out on the road that buses heading for Howrah from Esplanade take. To complete the choke, a dais was built blocking two lanes of the road.
Dilip Adak, deputy commissioner of police (traffic), watched helplessly as CPM supporters poured into the Dorina crossing. “We were forced to put a traffic diversion. South-bound vehicles along CR Avenue were diverted through Lenin Sarani,” he said.
Howrah-bound buses from Sealdah were not allowed to ply on SN Banerjee Road. They were diverted through Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, Nirmal Chander Street and Ganesh Chandra Avenue.
The CPM had planned a massive show of strength in Esplanade on Wednesday, bringing giant screens that were supposed to be put up at key locations so that pedestrians and supporters could hear and see the leaders. But police foiled that plan.
“We brought eight giant screens, each 8ft high and 10ft wide. We wanted to install these at the KC Das crossing, outside Victoria House and locations around the rally site,” said an official of the private company that the CPM had hired for the job.
The rent for each screen was about Rs 17,000 apart from peripheral expenses such as charges for the extension cables. The company had deployed 30 employees for the show.
Police officers said the screens would have created massive disruptions with people milling around them.
Roughly 50,000 people attended the rally. “The headcount on RR Avenue was about 10,000. But if one counts the people who came, stayed for some time and left, the count will rise to 50,000,” said a police officer.
Wednesday provided the curtain-raiser to the chaos that Calcutta could witness in the coming days.
A rally on RR Avenue from Thursday noon will be followed by a state-sponsored programme the next day where chief minister Mamata Banerjee is expected. Schoolchildren will perform on Red Road from 1pm on Friday to celebrate Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, which is actually on Sunday.
Brace for the biggest on January 30. Trinamul’s Brigade Parade Ground rally is expected to be so huge that Maidan, Esplanade, Park Street, Dalhousie and Chandni Chowk are likely to be out of bounds for anything that moves on wheels.
Meetings on Brigade Parade Ground are generally held on Sundays, but the Trinamul chose Thursday.