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A zoo called Bengal politics

Calcutta, Aug. 10: Formidable figures of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi today took position at strategic locations on the Alipore zoo premises, presumably keeping a hawk eye on potential monkey thieves.

Rigging up loudspeakers, shouting slogans, marching about and insulting officials, Bengal’s political circus today wound its way to the zoo as the Congress and the Trinamul Congress vied with each other to prove which party loves animals more.

The occasion to express solidarity with the caged creatures was provided by the theft of eight Common Marmosets from the zoo on Sunday.

The first to troop in were Trinamul supporters. The party’s councillor from Ward 82, Firhad Hakim, led a procession of 150-odd supporters around the zoo to register their protest. Few corners were spared, possibly to convince the occupants who their real champions are, just in case animals get voting rights by 2011.

Around 1pm, after the Trinamul wildlife enthusiasts left, Congress MP Deepa Das Munshi reached the zoo. No, she did not get her timing wrong — the party cannot be accused of such transgressions after the alacrity with which it enforced a bandh to protest the Mangalkot violence.

The Congress chose to roar — helped by loudspeakers tied to the landmark arch of the zoo — just when the animals were settling down after lunch. Post-lunch, nothing can be as soothing as a cacophony of Congress slogans.

But the supporters of Deepa, whose rivalry with Mamata Banerjee is well known, had come fortified with the heaviest artillery in the Congress war machine, never mind that it was made of cardboard. Oversized hoardings of the party’s triumvirate of Sonia, Manmohan and Rahul sprang up on the zoo premises.

If the paper tigers were not enough, a hoarding of Deepa was also erected. Perhaps, in keeping with the cub category, the leader of the Congress-affiliated zoo union had to be content with a smaller hoarding.

It is not known whether Trinamul will showcause Hakim for the slip of not bringing a Mamata hoarding that could have towered over the one featuring Deepa.

While the grown-ups were busy making life more difficult for the trapped animals, young visitors to the zoo were taken aback. “I was a little surprised when I saw huge figures of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi inside the zoo. For a minute, I thought they were visiting the zoo,” said 13-year-old Tanya Ghosh, who had come to the zoo with her family.

Tanya’s — intended or unintended — humour was lost on the wounded lovers of animals who competed with each other to shout slogans.

According to rules framed by the managing committee of the zoo, use of public address systems and shouting slogans on the premises is not allowed. An FIR can be lodged against offenders and a case can be pursued. But given the state administration’s ability to look the other way when laws are broken, it is unlikely that such matters will be given priority.

As far as the placement of hoardings of VIPs on the premises goes, no law has been laid down, possibly because the managing committee did not have the “foresight” to anticipate such innovations.

Zoo director S.K. Chowdhury also got an earful from the Congress leaders. “Till the time monkeys occupy this chair, animals like Common Marmosets will keep disappearing from the zoo,” Kanak Dev Nath, a Congress leader, told the director.

Chowdhury was suspended by the government in the evening but not before a phone was thrown at him by the Congress protesters. (See Metro)

Tanya, the little visitor to the zoo, left soon after she and her family realised what was going on.

The poor animals inside the cages did not have that option.

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