|Ashok Hall students in a pool car stranded near Esplanade at 3.10pm. They had left school at 2pm. Had it been any other day, they would have reached home by this time. The driver said the parents of the children were worried and were constantly calling him up for updates. (Bishwarup Dutta)
The Trinamul Congress and the BJP took to the streets simultaneously on the first working day of the week, leaving thousands stranded for hours.
Biswajeet Mazumdar, 55, who was on his way to Howrah to catch a train for Jamshedpur, had to get off a taxi after being stuck at the Park Street crossing for over 30 minutes.
“What will they achieve by protesting the rail fare hike in Calcutta?” wondered the college teacher at Jamshedpur, sweating profusely while making his way on foot through stranded vehicles towards Esplanade.
“If they are really serious, they should protest in Delhi.... If you want to protest political violence in villages, you must bring out rallies in those areas. That way the victims would be encouraged to come out and fight the perpetrators and the city would be spared the ordeal.”
The Trinamul rally from Subodh Mallik Square to Mayo Road protested the hike in railway fares, while the BJP march from College Square to Rani Rashmoni Avenue was organised to protest attacks on its supporters.
The worst hit by the twin rallies were thousands of students studying at schools on or off Central Avenue. Several pool cars and buses that ferry students of Welland Gouldsmith School, on BB Ganguly Street, failed to report on time.
The vehicles start reaching the school by 1pm, when the first batch of classes gives over. “Today the drivers called up to say they were stuck at various points on Central Avenue,” said a teacher of the school.
Trina Ruia’s pool car did turn up at school on time but she was not as lucky on her way home. The Ashok Hall student got stuck at the AJC Bose Road-SN Banerjee Road crossing, where vehicles stood bumper to bumper. The eight students in the car were sweating profusely. “The heat is unbearable,” said Trina, who studies in Class V.
One political rally at the heart of the city is enough to cripple traffic across vast stretches of the city. Two rallies, both starting at the same time, ensured that motorists did not have an escape route.
Senior leaders of Trinamul and the BJP justified the decision to hold traffic-choker rallies on a weekday afternoon.
BJP state president Rahul Sinha said the disruption was for the “larger good” of the people of the state, while Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said the “pressing issue (railway fare hike) had compelled his party to deviate from its stand not to hold rallies.
To the rally victims, however, the attitude of both parties seemed irresponsible.
“One party is in power at the Centre and the other in the state. Both acted irresponsibly,” said Shipra Guha, a senior teacher at a school in central Calcutta, who took 40 minutes to cross three signals on Central Avenue in her car.
Soon after the rallies started at 2pm, vehicles got stranded on Central Avenue, College Street, BB Ganguly Street, JL Nehru Road, SN Banerjee Road, Lenin Sarani and Park Street.
The BJP rally ensured that vehicles bound for central and south Calcutta came to a halt, while the Trinamul rally disrupted traffic from east to west. “Two rallies at the same time and in the same area left us with no alternate route to divert vehicles. Between 2pm and 3pm, traffic in large parts of the city was not moving,” said a Calcutta police officer stationed in the Lalbazar traffic control room.