It was a poila baisakh (Bengali new year) like no other. After the initial shock of a Jadavpur University professor’s arrest on Friday for circulating a picture spoof on West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the city erupted in outrage on Saturday.
Ambikesh Mohapatra was arrested on Friday and later released on bail. His neighbour Subrata Sengupta, whose e-mail id was used to forward the cartoon, was also arrested and released. The cartoon parodied Banerjee’s move of replacing former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi with Mukul Roy.
Though colleges remained closed for the weekend, in certain areas student bodies took out demonstrations while social networking sites were abuzz with anti-Mamata posts.
A section of the city’s intellectuals were also vociferous in their protests. Noted writer Sunil Gangopadhya said, “This incident is unacceptable.”
Voices of dissent also poured in from other parts of the country. Human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen said, “It is not only ignorance of human rights but also direct violation of human rights. I strongly condemn it.”
“Right to freedom of speech is openly being flouted. Dissent is not being allowed, which is worrying. These arrests are without any basis,” added Sen, who is in Maharashtra.
Social activist Medha Patkar, who has in the past shared dais with Banerjee during the anti-Left Front movement, said, “I cannot believe Mamata Banerjee could do this.”
Trivedi, who was visiting his ancestral home in Gujarat’s Kutch district, said, “I feel cartoons are an integral part of healthy democracy. Cartoons cannot destroy your image. It is the people who make your image, and it is they who destroy it.”
Though a section of Kolkata’s intellectuals rose in strident protest against the state administration’s ‘dictatorial ways’, the CPI(M) maintained a low profile, shying away from taking to the streets. Party leaders said they did not want to unnecessarily politicise an issue that was triggering spontaneous protests from the civil society.
“Who said we are not protesting? Different mass organisations are showing solidarity against the various anti-democratic activities and decisions of Trinamool Congress,” said CPI(M) central committee member Mohammed Salim.
With inputs from agencies