“Traffic-ta off kore din, michhil-ta aage chharun (Stop the traffic, let the rally go first),” hollered a traffic sergeant to his subordinates at the Red Road approach in front of the martyrs’ column.
It could easily have been a scene from the September morning when the “traffic” included Justice Amitava Lala who, following the hold-up and a contempt notice to Calcutta Police, delivered his now-stayed rein-rally ruling.
But this wasn’t September. The sequence of events, beginning with a rally to Shahid Minar that caught a Raj Bhavan car (with the governor’s wife, Anjana Shah, inside) with a police pilot vehicle in its midst, was dated December 8.
And all this, just a few days after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told the Assembly that the government was just waiting for a signal from the judiciary to rein in rallies.
The All-India Railwaymen’s Union, comprising units of the Left-backed union from all over the country and drawing its main support-base here from CPM-backed unions like the Eastern Railwaymen’s Union, was scheduled to hold a rally at Shahid Minar on Monday afternoon. Permission was sought from the police, and, as usually happens, granted.
“The request was for a meeting at Shahid Minar,” deputy commissioner (headquarters) H.P. Singh said. “Adequate arrangements were made to ensure that the rallies did not disturb the normal flow of traffic,” he added, elaborating that there was an instruction to “break up the rallies into smaller components”. And there was no disruption of traffic, Singh insisted.
Try telling that to all those who had the misfortune of crossing Esplanade on Monday afternoon. Right from 1.30 pm, when rallyists started to converge, there was massive disruption of traffic in and around BBD Bag.
The “most important” all-India railway union supported by Left parties and units from all over the country, including Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, marched to Shahid Minar throughout the afternoon. Most of them arrived through Howrah and took the Strand Road-Red Road route, causing widespread disruption.
The Raj Bhavan car —with a siren-wailing pilot vehicle — arrived at the intersection around 2.30 pm. On the Raj Bhavan-to-Park Street stretch, it was forced to slow down. “Governor Viren J. Shah’s wife was inside the car at that time,” confirmed a traffic wing official later in the evening.
The Raj Bhavan vehicle was lucky. All other cars, including quite a few government vehicles, had to wait quite a while for the small groups of rallyists to saunter by as police officers stood on watch.
Another meeting at Rani Rashmoni Avenue, also convened by a Left-backed employees’ union, of the public works department, just added to Monday’s traffic mess.