Kolkata braces for stir ahead of Amit Shah’s CAA rally
Kolkata is bracing for widespread protests on March 1, when Union home minister Amit Shah and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Jagat Prakash Nadda are scheduled to arrive in the city to address a public rally where they will speak in favour the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
While Left parties have called for protests on the streets, an “apolitical gathering” has been called a group of Muslim social workers and students for a protest at the Bengal BJP headquarters. The Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, one of India’s leading organisations of Islamic scholars, has called for a protest march in the city which will be led by Trinamool Congress (TMC) minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury. A separate protest has been organised by a group of social activists.
Most of these programmes are around the city’s Esplanade, which is also the venue of Shah’s rally.
“Kolkata will welcome Shah just the way Narendra Modi was welcomed – with black flags. Shah has his hands soaked in blood in the Delhi clashes. He is not welcome in Bengal,” said Mohammed Salim, a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He also sought to club the state’s ruling TMC with the BJP.
“Mamata Banerjee may try her best to offer Shah a red carpet but people will take to the streets,” he added.
Social activist Wali Rahmani, who has called for a gherao (blockade) of the Bengal BJP headquarters, said, “We will march from Ramlila Maidan to the BJP office, carrying a packet of sweets, flowers and a letter for Shah so that he stops delivering hate speeches and ensures his party men stop doing the same.”
Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind’s state unit president and the library minister in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, said he will lead a peaceful march from Moulali area, condemning Shah’s inaction during the clashes in tNew Delhi and demanding his resignation. “Shah has earned our country a bad name in the world,” Chowdhury said.
Bengal Congress president Somen Mitra said the party would decide on Saturday whether to join the Left in Sunday’s protest. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, has criticised chief minister Mamata Banerjee for attending a meeting of the Eastern Zonal Council chaired by Shah in Bhubaneswar on Friday. “TMC has exposed its secret understanding with the BJP,” Chowdhury said.
The administration is expecting a situation similar to that in January when protesters brought the city to a standstill during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. Then, the police did not allow protesters to reach anywhere near the venues of the Prime Minister’s various engagements.
This time is different. While most of the events Modi participated in were indoors, around 100,000 BJP supporters are expected to gather at Shahid Minar ground to listen to Shah.
The BJP has emerged the second most powerful political force in the state after the TMC. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state to the TMC’s 22.
BJP state unit president Dilip Ghosh criticised the planned protests. “The Left and Congress, due to their destructive politics, are on the verge of extinction. They are resorting to the same brand of politics for a revival. People will reject them,” Ghosh said.
No police officer agreed to speak on the record. “None of the protest programmes have been given permission. The police will remain alert and ensure that protesters do not come near the venue of the BJP’s rally,” said a senior officer of Kolkata police who is involved in security arrangements for the day.
Senior TMC leaders declined comment, saying the chief minister was monitoring the whole situation. “She is the home minister and only she will comment,” said a senior TMC minister who did not want to be identified.
TMC has no scheduled programme on Sunday. During Modi’s visit, TMC carried out a sit-in demonstration, even though Banerjee met Modi at the governor’s residence. She later described it as a courtesy call.