The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Queues longer than at zoo to view House vandalism

Footfall at Alipore zoo: 1,900

Footfall at West Bengal Assembly: 35,000-plus.

The aftermath of Team Mamata’s animal act in the state Assembly was a bigger draw on bandh Friday than the caged beasts in Alipore.

With the Assembly doors thrown open between 10 am and 4 pm, no less than 35,000 Calcuttans turned up to see tables, chairs and microphones smashed and uprooted by Trinamul Congress legislators, as well as remnants of egg and chicken dishes used as missiles in the well of the House on Thursday afternoon.

On bandh day, the queue of men, women and children outside the Assembly gates would have done a cricket match at Eden Gardens proud.Once inside, they could only gape at the sorry spectacle the house of people’s representatives had been reduced to.

Dekhte din, Bidhan Sabha-ey ashar sujog aar pabo na, (Let us see, we will not get another chance to come here),” requested Kalyan Roy Chowdhury when security staff members hurried him along.

Roy Chowdhury, a resident of Sonarpur, had taken a bus early on Friday and waited over an hour to get inside the hallowed hall, bearing all the scars of Thursday’s mayhem.

“Political parties have differences, but is this the way to protest'” he asked, refusing to comment on the farm-versus-factory debate.

What had triggered Thursday’s assault on Assembly House was Mamata Banerjee’s proposed visit to Singur to protest the government’s decision to hand over agricultural land to the Tata Group for its people’s car project. Police stopped Mamata midway and sent her back to Calcutta.

Hell hath no fury as Mamata scorned. Fuming, she went straight to the Assembly and told her party colleagues about the “police atrocities”, sparking off angry protests inside the hall. The trouble tumbled out to the lobby and then spilled on to the city’s streets.

On Friday, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim decided to allow public viewing of the remains of the rampage.

Everything was kept untouched — even the table lamp on the Speaker’s desk was not switched off — to let people see up close what they had glimpsed on television.

“How could they lift that' These tables are so heavy,” wondered a visitor, pointing to a beautiful table of Burma teak uprooted from the floor and flung to the well.

“Just see what they have done... It was so painful to see the vandalism,” said J.K. Majumder, marshal and security in charge of the Assembly.

In his 30 years of duty, he has never seen anything like this — smashed sound boxes, wrenched off microphones and headphones and piles of papers strewn all around.

Taratari korun… hantte thakun (Keep moving),” urged Shabina Begum, Assembly security staff member, also playing guide to first-timers, many of whom whipped out camera phones.

“People are asking a lot of questions, like where does the chief minister sit, where do the Opposition members sit…. We are trying to answer their queries,” smiled Shabina, a veteran of 22 years in the temple of democracy.

“We should thank Didi (Mamata) for doing something like this, otherwise we would not have got a chance to enter the Assembly,” quipped a BSNL employee, at the gate of the hall with larger-than-life portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and BC Roy on two sides.

His colleagues, Aghor Sikdar and Madan Mohan Mondal, were lounging on the lush Assembly lawns, enjoying the December afternoon sun after a round of the rampage site.

Besh pujo pujo lagchhe (It’s like the Pujas),” whispered a security guard to his colleague, as around 15 women in red-bordered white saris — employees of Howrah Municipal Corporation — approached the gate opening into the lobby.

Such batches of visitors, along with some known SFI faces and schoolchildren in uniform, made Mamata see red. “Those who visited the Assembly on Friday were not common people… They were all CPM cadre, brought in hired vehicles,” she claimed.

That is open to debate. What cannot be debated is that 30 Trinamul legislators had managed to draw more than 35,000 people to the Assembly for the first day, first show.

The public viewing of the worst vandalism in the House’s history will continue between 10 am and 4 pm till Sunday.

Dhoom 2 has competition this weekend, and the zoo a strange new address.

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