Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has decided not to attend Wednesday’s all-party meeting called by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to reach a consensus on imposing rally discipline in Calcutta’s streets. Without Mamata’s support — Trinamul being the main Opposition — a code of conduct on rallies will not work. When the court restricted rallies, the government opposed. When the government wants to do the same, the Opposition opposes. “If the common people and the Opposition don’t hold rallies, who will'” Mamata is asking.
Calcutta, Oct. 28: Remember July 21, 1993, when 13 men died in police firing on a rally'
The families that lost their men — often the only earning members — remember, only too clearly, the day they were bereaved 10 years ago. The anger — against a “heartless” police force — is not yet spent but, somewhere down the line, rallies have ceased to appear like a vehicle to voice that anger.
Three of the four families — among the total of 13 — living in the city proper were spoken to and all said they were yet to forgive the government that “took away” their men. But, simultaneously, the families that contributed standard-bearers for the Trinamul’s annual rally view the organised shows of strength as “soulless phenomena achieving nothing”.
Ask Kalyan Banerjee’s mother (Juthika) or elder brother (Bikash), who survive him since the July 21 of a decade ago. The family bridged the political gap between the Left and the Opposition — then represented by the Congress and its youth wing that Mamata used to lead. Bikash was a regular at every big CPM do whereas Kalyan would make it a point to respond to every one of Mamata’s calls.
Kalyan died. But it was not only the Opposition that lost a regular at its rallies. Bikash, too, stopped going to them. “I cringe at the sound of the word ‘rally’,” he said.
“The very word brings back so many emotions I would rather not feel,” he explained, expressing his fear of “sarbanasha (destructive)” political programmes.
Arun Ray and his mother, Ashalata, are another set of people for whom rallies conjure up unpleasant associations. The family, staying at an address on Swinhoe Lane, lost Pradip to the rally that tried to move towards Writers’ Buildings and was fired upon by a police force then described variously as “on the edge” and “trigger-happy”.
“Even now, when I hear someone from my neighbourhood going to attend a rally, I start praying,” the elderly Ashalata said. “If it was within my powers, I would have stopped every single rally called by self-serving individuals now called leaders,” she added.
The family of Shrikanta Sharma is, perhaps, even worse off. After his death in the Youth Congress rally, the household — comprising four daughters and Shrikanta’s wife Renu — eked out a living on their neighbours’ sympathy.
One of the daughters has married a neighbour, Purnendu Mridha, but things have not changed much. Purnendu is the only earning member — he teaches students at home — and the family is left ruing what happened at a rally 10 years ago. In Renu’s words, that rally “took away everything and gave back only suffering and poverty”.
She added that she had heard about “a controversy” over the right to rally which started over a court order.
But she does not know that Mamata is declining to enter into a compromise with the ruling party over imposing rally discipline — one Trinamul argument questions how the party can surrender the right to hold its July 21 rally.