| poll or picnic' A Calcutta police officer munches his lunch in Palm Avenue. Picture by Amit Datta
Sitting in his jeep outside Shyambazar’s Raja Manindra College, the Shyampukur OC scrapes the bottom of his earthen cup of mishti doi, throws it on the pavement and leans back in his seat, contented. Soon, his eyelids droop.
A glum CPM “action squad” member, Mohammed Hyder of Topsia, sits at a tea stall in Azad Mohalla, watching the paramilitary guard a polling station. “You call this an election' Where’s all the excitement'” he fumes.
Calcutta, April 27: Courtesy the poll panel, election day saw two new classes of the unemployed in Bengal: the police and the cadre.
Calcutta police’s 14,000 personnel were deployed on the streets because the Election Commission had barred them from 200 metres of any polling station. They had little to do other than watch the paramilitary in action.
“Ki korbo bolun' Amader to ebar kono kaj nei (What can we do' This time we have no work),” D.C. Dey, the Shyampukur OC, said. “I have never been so relaxed on a polling day in my 20 years of service.”
“It’s like a holiday. We are spending our time chatting,” said a grinning Saibal Banerjee of Muchipara police station, posted at the BB Ganguly Street intersection near Sealdah.
If the overworked force was happy at the unexpected break, the party “activists” seethed at being pushed off the big stage on the big day that comes once in five years.
“This is the first time I haven’t had any work to do,” said Hyder, a veteran of many poll battles whose left hand was blown off while making a bomb. “If only I had my way, I would have straightened out a lot of things here.”
On another day in another election, Trinamul’s Pinoy would have found no reason to agree with Hyder on anything. Today, at Swinhoe Lane, he sat ruing the day the poll panel requisitioned the central forces.
“Where did these people come from' Look at those deadly things (automatic weapons) they are carrying,” Pinoy sounded horrified.
“We have become totally unemployed this time. No petos (crude bombs), no danas (pellets). This is no life.”
“This is the life,” the four constables in a Maruti Omni on S.N. Banerjee Road may well have been saying as they tapped their feet to Bollywood sizzlers blaring from their FM radio set.
A senior officer from the detective department, on patrol in a Gypsy, almost winked as he confessed: “I even managed to go home for half an hour for lunch.”
At Bosepukur More, even the tea was turning to ashes in “master false voter” Swapan’s mouth.
The cadre from Ballygunge, who proudly claimed he had cast 36 false votes for CPM candidate Rabin Deb in 2001, had a look of awe on his face as he gazed at the AK-47s of the paramilitary troops.
“Orey baba, who’s going to try casting false votes with these people around' Their guns look like those used by gangsters in western films.”
Minutes later, a BSF jawan walked across to the tea stall to ask Swapan and his friends to “clear out”, which they promptly did.
“See, this is what we have been reduced to,” was all Swapan could bear to say before ambling away.
In central Calcutta’s Prem Chand Boral Street, Ram Kishan, a Haryana Police sub-inspector, was proudly narrating how he had been chasing away goons all morning. “We have shown everybody how to keep an area thanda (quiet),” he said.
The scene was thanda even in Salt Lake, where three booths at Acharya Prafulla Chandra Vidyalaya in BK block had seen violence in last year’s municipal elections.
“Last time we had mobilised many people to come and vote from outside,” admitted Badal Sarkar alias Chhotu of Sukantanagar. “But this time we were told to lay off.”
Around 1 pm at the Lalbazar police headquarters, a group of 150 policemen of the reserve force ' who had been kept ready for an emergency ' were seen lying on the floor of a hall. Some slept while the rest watched a Bollywood potboiler on TV.
“We kept our force ready. The deployment has been done on the basis of instructions given by the Election Commission,” deputy commissioner (headquarters) Anuj Sharma shrugged. “Yes, this year’s experience has been the first of its kind.”