A change in the attitude (water cannon on standby and busloads of arrests), but not in the disruption (traffic tremors from Esplanade to Shyambazar) or the discrimination (handle the Left with velvet gloves, the rest with iron fist).
Two major processions, the rounding up of protesters by the hundreds from one but not the other and traffic snarls despite “massive” police arrangements made up Tuesday afternoon on the streets of a city caught in a tug of war over the right to rally and the right of way. Two other rallies-to-be were stopped before they could start by prompt police action.
For the first of the two major rallies organised by the West Bengal Madarsa Students’ Union, police took up position along the entire stretch — from Haji Mohammad Mohsin Square to Rani Rashmoni Avenue — before the scheduled time of 12.45 pm.
The effort, along the entire route, was to nudge the processionists to one side, leaving the rest of the road to afternoon traffic. Police were seen urging the leaders to ensure that the 5,000 participants marched down Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, SN Banerjee Road and cut across Jawaharlal Nehru Road “keeping 60 per cent of the thoroughfare free”.
The students assembled on Rani Rashmoni Avenue, flanked by two deputy commissioners, personnel from four police stations and a Rapid Action Force (RAF) contingent, with a water-cannon on vigil in front of Metro cinema.
Trouble erupted around 2.30 pm, when the protesters courted arrest and police rounded up around 1,500 of them, bringing traffic on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, SN Banerjee Road, CR Avenue and Old Court House Street to a halt.
“Initially, we had refused the students permission, as they had caused a law-and-order problem last year,” deputy commissioner (headquarters) Kuldiep Singh later said. “But when they promised to follow our instructions, we allowed them.”
The new-found aggressive intent was something for the cops to crow about. “There is a definite change in attitude. For example, the water cannon has never been called in since a July 21 rally by Mamata Banerjee,” said a senior officer.
But a few hours later, and few kilometres north of Rani Rashmoni Avenue, it was different strokes for different folks. The rally organised by the Forward Bloc to celebrate 60 years of the provisional Azad Hind government, found the police being far more patient and polite.
Despite the rush hour, the cops, who had herded the students into the street-corner during their march, decided to merely “escort” the Bloc members to the Shyambazar crossing from Hedua Park. As a result, vehicular movement at the crucial five-point crossing came to a standstill for over half an hour from 5 pm.
Elsewhere, police managed to nip a Paschim Banga Krishak Goraksha Samity rally in the bud on College Street, not allowing them right of passage to the Tangra slaughterhouse. “Around 35 protesters, including 16 women and four children, were rounded up, as we didn’t want traffic disruption,” said deputy commissioner Singh.
In a similar swoop, Trinamul Congress activists were stopped from entering RG Kar Medical College and Hospital for a show of protest.