Kolkata: On the edge of a Precipice

Written by Monobina Gupta | Published on: May 16, 2019
Overnight Vidyasagar has been transformed into Bengal’s new political icon, a symbol of resistance against the BJP. After rallyists in a procession led by Amit Shah barged into Vidyasagar College and vandalised his statue last evening, Mamata spoke before a huge gathering at Behala Chowrasta. An electrified audience responded to each of her calls with a roar. “Tomaader lajja kore na? (Aren’t you ashamed)?” she repeatedly asked the BJP, raising her pitch and asking the gathered crowd – as disciplined as any mobilised once upon a time by the Left – to stay calm; calling on them to give a befitting reply to the BJP when the time comes to vote. The BJP does not know who Vidyasagar was. Who Rabindranath was. Yet they want to occupy Bengal, she said.

Kolkata Violence

At the end of a hot and humid day, a storm seemed about to break. As the wind picked up, so did Mamata’s speech. The crowd wanted more. At the end, as she chanted well known shlokas from Bhagavad Gita, the mass of people heard in pin-drop silence. It was electrifying.

This evening, walking down College Street to Shyam Bazar, I saw young men wearing placards with Vidyasagar’s image on them. Today, Mamata walked the same route that Amit Shah took yesterday. Thousands of women and men walked with her, calling the BJP out. Protesting the vandalisation of Vidyasagar’s statue.

Walking the streets, I cannot help but get the feeling that today, Kolkata – a city of eccentrics, radicals, and conservatives alike – is on the edge of a precipice. As I wandered down the Gariahat lane, I heard hawkers arguing politics. Four Trinamool supporters and one CPI-M-turned-BJP supporter. I joined their conversation for a while. The red-turned-saffron hawker accused me of being a TMC supporter when I asked him why is he asking people to vote for Modi. Their banter was sharp and political; peppered with humour, yet uncompromising. Characteristic of the city.

Will the inroads made by the BJP change all this?

Today CPI-M general secretary, condemed the vandalisation of Vidyasagar’s statue, and blamed hooliganism in the TMC and BJP. Yesterday, in an informal conversation with a highly-placed TMC official, I mused out loud that the last time the Vidyasagar statue was vandalised was during the Naxal uprising. “They were not like this,” the official said – drawing the kind of distinction between the Left and the BJP that the CPI-M today is loathed to draw.

It’s hard, caught in this vortex, to not have the bleak feeling that Bengal is slipping away.

From a FB post of Monobina Gupta titled “Some Notes from a City becoming rapidly unhinged “