Mamata Banerjee bans agitation in Kolkata’s protest hub of College Square
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Mamata Banerjee bans agitation in Kolkata’s protest hub of College Square

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee asked a group of students to write to the police to stop protest meetings and rallies in College Square and instructed the police to act on it.

kolkata Updated: Jun 01, 2017 19:28 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
College Street,College Square,Mamata Banerjee
For about two centuries Kolkata’s College Street has served as a seat of learning and a zone of protest and agitation. (Wikipedia)

After serving the city as the cradle of countless agitation programmes for about 200 years, College Square, regarded as Kolkata’s protest hub is going to fall silent soon, thanks to chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s instructions following a complaint from research scholars of Calcutta University that is within a stone’s throw from the historic square. Fuming opposition leaders have vowed to resist her plan.

“Meetings and rallies should be stopped in College Square. Political parties do it. I also do it, but only twice a year. Others keep doing it all the time. How can students study if people are raising slogans constantly on microphones? Trinamool Congress won’t conduct any meetings there, and all parties must follow it,” remarked Mamata Banerjee at an administrative meeting at Chinsurah of Hooghly district on Thursday.

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“This is a super proposal. I know political parties hold numerous agitation programmes at the spot and microphones blare all the time. You please submit an application to Kolkata Police and we will turn it into a silence zone,” she said reacting to a student’s complaint that numerous agitation programmes at the spot make it difficult for them to study.

College Street is also lined by shops selling old and new books on either side. (Wikipedia)

Opposition leaders across the political spectrum reacted sharply to the chief minister’s instructions. Within an hour of the chief minister issuing instructions, it became clear that the opposition will rush to College Square to protest the ‘gag order’.

Incidentally, the chief minister was reacting to a suggestion by a research scholar who told the chief minister that they face difficulties because of blaring microphones. Before he could even complete a sentence, Mamata Banerjee took over and told the students to submit a formal complaint letter to Kolkata Police. She also told the DGP on the dais to convey her instructions to the city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar.

College Square located on the 1.5-km long College Street is a part of Kolkata’s heritage. It not only accommodates more than half a dozen reputable and the country’s oldest educational institutions, but also is the location of the city’s famous market of new and old books with hundreds of publishers dotting the entire zone.

Mamata Banerjee is trying to find a pretext to deprive the opposition of a traditional spot of protest, opposition leaders have alleged. (HT Photo)

The institutions in this area are Hindu School (set up on January 20, 1817), Hare School (1818), Presidency University (1817), Calcutta University (1857), Calcutta Medical College (1835) and Sanskrit College (1824).

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“College Square has been a spot of agitation and protest since the days of Henry Derozio and Young Bengal movement in the early nineteenth century. Mamata Banerjee is simply using an excuse to silence us,” remarked CPI(M) politburo member and Lok Sabha MP Md Salim.

“Calcutta University was not set up day before yesterday. Educational institutions and protest meetings co-existed for decades. The chief minister got her own people to raise the point so that she could utilise the opportunity to muffle the voice of the opposition,” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh. He made it clear that BJP will not abide by it.

A Left rally on College Street against Mamata Banerjee government . (Facebook)

Significantly, apart from political parties, different associations, NGOs, pressure groups and bodies all use College Square as a spot of protest. “College Street has been a centre of protest for more than a century. The chief minister’s direction is nothing but high-handedness. If she is keen on curbing noise pollution, the government should be enforcing the no-horn zones near hospitals first,” remarked Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay who spent nearly 50 years in College Street, first as a student of Presidency College and then as its principal.

“It was all staged. Why should students of Calcutta University travel all the way to Hooghly to raise this question. Actually, she is scared of the opposition after our successful ‘March to the secretariat’ on May 22, and is determined to silence us somehow,” said leader of the Left parties in the assembly Sujan Chakraborty.

In the end sixties and early seventies, College Street and College Square were the hotbeds of violence during the Naxalite days as students of Presidency College and Calcutta University turned rebels by the dozens, turning the entire zone into a major headache for Kolkata Police.

Even after Naxalism faded away, parties of all hues used College Square as a frequent seat of agitation programmes. Marching from College Square to Esplande became a preferred choice of political parties.

First Published: Jun 01, 2017 19:28 IST