Two professionals, leading figures in their respective fields who have spent long years in Calcutta, were at Saturday’s event at Victoria Memorial to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Both said they were aghast when they saw 15 to 20 people among the audience erupt in chants of “Jai Shri Ram”. The two Calcuttans narrated to The Telegraph what they heard and saw at the event organised by the Union culture ministry. Both requested anonymity for obvious reasons.
First professional: A group of people, actually I’m not sure whether they were part of one group as the men were scattered across a few rows at the back, had started chanting “Jai Shri Ram” even before the programme began. At the Victoria Memorial gate near the AJC Bose Road flyover, we could see Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s car heading towards Elgin Road. We could clearly see the Prime Minister sitting in the car, and these people chanted “Jai Shri Ram”.
First professional: I was surprised and so were a few of my friends whom I had run into at the event. We saw some of the volunteers and organisers rushing towards them and asking them to be quiet. But after a short while, some of them chanted “Jai Shri Ram” several times again.
Most of them were young. A few were wearing saffron scarves that resembled those that some politicians wear. Initially, they chanted the slogan in a low voice but the moment chief minister Mamata Banerjee walked towards the podium, they sprang to their feet and started shouting “Jai Shri Ram” at the top of their voices.
The volunteers and organisers rushed towards them and the chief minister too protested strongly in her short speech. Then there was complete silence. Maybe some of these people too understood that what they had done was not right.
I did not like the slogan-shouting at all. This was not a political event and most of those invited like me were not politicians. We had accepted the invitation because it was a programme to celebrate the birth anniversary of a great leader. But unlike these people, we kept our opinions to ourselves because it is inappropriate to express your views there.
Second professional: I was seated in a middle row. The moderator announced the name of chief minister Mamata Banerjee as the next speaker and immediately I heard from the back chants of “Jai Shri Ram”.
Like everyone else, I too turned my head to see who was shouting. They were young people. Some of them, I think, wore suits or jackets and sat in the last few rows at the back. I think there were barely 15 to 20 people shouting the slogan.
The moderator appealed to them to stop but they continued. The chief minister was visibly annoyed. After she sternly said this was a government programme and there should not have been any political slogans, there was an uneasy calm.
I heard one elderly gentleman asking why political slogans were being chanted at such a solemn event.
The chief minister thanked Prime Minister Modi for arranging the programme in Calcutta.
The programme was to start at 4.30pm but I had arrived a bit early. It was very well organised.
There were security checks at two points, one at the main entrance to the Victoria Memorial and the other at the point of entry to the open-air space where the main programme was being organised. The security personnel checked my identity document at both points. They also checked the invitation card minutely. But despite such vigil, they could not prevent such a nuisance.
Many doctors, musicians and other known faces were in the audience. They later told me they were surprised and shocked that a group of people could behave this way.
At the beginning of the programme, after the Prime Minister arrived, he went inside to inaugurate an exhibition on Netaji. It was shown on a screen.
It showed the Prime Minister, the governor, two Union ministers and Victoria Memorial officials walking together and the chief minister walking separately.
I got the impression that she had got left behind and they were not talking to her, which I did not like. This was not a place for politics, I thought.
After the chief minister’s protest, the Prime Minister spoke for about half an hour but the spirit of the programme was dampened. Initially, people in the audience, most known to each other, were talking and taking selfies. After the incident, everyone was quiet. The slogan-shouting had left a bad taste in the mouth.