Kalyan Banerjee points to the area where he claimed he had been heckled by fellow morning walkers on Wednesday. Picture by Sushovan Sircar
Calcutta, May 22: “Kal ka jhamela (yesterday’s trouble)” replaced Narendra Modi as the talk of the walk at the Dhakuria Lake this morning.
By 6am, the Lake premises were filling up with policemen — some in plain clothes, some in uniform, some on foot and some on carts, some with walkie-talkies and some bare-handed. The Lake police station officer-in-charge was on duty, too.
The morning before, Kalyan Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress’s Serampore MP, had allegedly threatened and abused a group of Hindi-speaking morning walkers who were discussing Modi. The MP had denied the allegations and said he was the one who protested objectionable remarks about a community.
As Kalyan returned to do his rounds today, The Telegraph tried to keep pace with him.
“Arre yahan kal ke baare mein please baat mat kijiye. Chaaro taraf police humey dekh rahi hain (Please do not talk about yesterday’s incident here. We are being watched by the police from all sides),” said a regular when this reporter approached him.
The sole topic of conversation, however, was unmistakable, albeit hushed. Not just around the Lake but also over steaming cups of masala chai and samosas at Maharaja and Maharani near Lake Road. “Kal ka jhamela (yesterday’s trouble)” was the hottest topic on the menu.
The group which was at the receiving end of the MP’s verbal lashing decided to stay off the Lake today but Kalyan arrived at his usual time, 7.30am, and walked his usual route.
He was tailed by two bodyguards and an aide who matched him step for step. While one of the guards carried a bottle of cold water, the aide was entrusted with the MP’s mobile phone.
Dressed in a pair of silver Nike sneakers, steel grey trousers and a collared T-shirt tucked in tight, Kalyan waved and smiled at fellow walkers every few metres as he walked with long strides.
There was no conversation around him but he was the one trying to strike one every now and then. “Ki, bhalo achhen (How are you)?” he asked many.
“Meye aar jamaai kemon (How are your daughter and son-in-law)?” he called out to a walker from the opposite direction.
Kalyan entered through the gate next to Lake Club and walked for an hour in a U-shaped route right up to the Bengal Rowing Club entrance and then returned by the same route. As he walked past the AMRI memorial and turned right, the officer-in-charge of Lake police station, in plain clothes, stood up straighter.
It is here that the MP had allegedly approached the group of four to five persons. Only the police were there today. The benches were empty. Most people headed home straight after the walk, avoiding their customary chat.
Kalyan pointed out to the empty bench and said: “There. They were sitting there.”
An elderly person seated on a bench at a distance elbowed his friend and said: “Oi dekh aaj abar eshechhe (See, he has come again).”
“It seems many have not turned up today. Usually it takes me a while to find parking but today I got a space immediately,” said a middle-aged walker.
Kalyan seemed unfazed by the attention he had been receiving and the mutterings he had been eliciting. “I have been walking regularly at the Lake for 20 years. Why should I not come today?” he said.
Many regulars at the Lake were taken aback by the number of policemen present. One of them said: “I have walked past at least a dozen personnel watching every walker. Where are all these policemen when a girl is harassed or a person is robbed in this area?”
The Hindi-speaking businessman has been coming to the Lake regularly for walks for the past five years.
Old-timers said they could not recall another occasion when they had seen such police presence on the premises.
Lake police station sources said 15 personnel were deployed at the Lake this morning. The number of personnel in the morning is usually two to three, the sources added.
Around 8.20am, back from his round, Kalyan slowed down next to the AMRI Memorial. “Those who had heckled me yesterday have not come today. I can’t see them,” he said.
He then took this reporter to the exact spot where fellow walkers had surrounded him yesterday. “This is the spot,” he said. “Some Hindi-speaking people were making communal comments to which I protested. I have nothing against Narendra Modi but I am against those trying to destroy the secular fabric of the city.”
As his walk came to an end, the plainclothes and uniformed officers seemed more relaxed and out of their designated positions.
“Ora Modi ke mathay rekhe nachook. Bappi-ke toh ami hariyechhi (Let them dance with Modi on their heads. I have defeated Bappi Lahiri),” Kalyan said, denying allegations of having threatened people because of discussions about Modi.
“But why are so many policemen here today?” this correspondent asked the MP. He said: “I have no idea.”
By 9am, Kalyan was out of the premises. So were the officers on duty.