Kolkata: The slogan “Goli maaro saalon ko (Shoot the traitors)” reared its ugly head in the heart of central Kolkata on Sunday, with several BJP supporters headed to Union home minister Amit Shah’s rally shouting it out in an attempt to heckle and intimidate anti-CAA protesters, who responded by drowning out the hate chant with cries of “Halla Bol”.
Cops had a tough time keeping the rival groups away from each other.
The controversial, incendiary slogan was raised by several BJP campaigners before the Delhi assembly polls last month, notably Union minister Anurag Thakur, during a campaign. Lashing out against anti-CAA protesters, he shouted “Desh ke gaddaron ko…”, to which the crowd responded by saying “…goli maaro saalon ko”. More recently, on Saturday, the slogan was again raised by a group of youths at Delhi’s Rajiv Chowk Metro station.
At Kolkata, the anti-CAA activists started gathering near The Oberoi Grand in Esplanade — on Jawaharlal Nehru Road — from the afternoon, hours before Shah reached the rally venue. Most of them were carrying “Go Back Amit Shah” banners and posters, chanting anti-CAA slogans. Around 2pm, the rallyists — comprising nearly 200 activists — were trying to head towards the Dorina crossing, when a rally of BJP workers, mainly people from south Kolkata neighbourhoods, reached the spot. Slogans from the activists prompted BJP supporters to counter, and they started shouting, “Desh ke gaddaron ko/ Goli maaro saalon ko”. The situation turned tense within a minute, and the cops quickly swung into action. They positioned themselves in the middle of the road to prevent the situation from escalating.
Thespian Kaushik Sen felt that people in Bengal were already being polarised on religious lines. “A strong Hindutva narrative is being constructed. Along with the religious polarisation, people are being divided into political camps based on hatred. It will not be long before people try to re-enact Delhi on the streets of Kolkata,” he told TOI. Organisations like the No-NRC Movement have planned campaigns against the hate slogan from Monday. “Students, mainly from Jadavpur University, IIEST-Shibpur and Presidency University were present during the agitation at Esplanade. There was no provocation from their end. We have seen in Delhi how disruptive such slogans had been. It is time to start campaign against such hatred,” said Kamal Sur, one of the conveners of the No-NRC Movement.
BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu defended the hate slogan. “How else do you expect people to react? They have been instigated over propaganda and fake news in the past couple of weeks. That has sparked anger among them and they are now identifying anti-national forces,” he said. Bankura’s BJP MP Subash Sarkar, however, claimed Left and Congress supporters had infiltrated their meeting and tried to give it a bad name.
The Left and Congress were quick to condemn it. CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty felt the hate speech, which stung Delhi hard, was now strategically being “imported” to Bengal. “We have not heard this slogan on the streets of Kolkata before. It is provocative enough to inject hatred among people. Of late, it was often heard in Delhi while the riot was on. Today, it was juxtaposed with Shah’s visit to Kolkata,” he said.
“It is surprising that those who shouted ‘Goli maaro’ were not arrested by the police,” state Congress president Somen Mitra said. “They continued to shout slogans and went to the rally site. Those who constantly try to disintegrate the nation and compare India with Pakistan at the drop of a hat are the real traitors. I salute those who dared to shout ‘Go back’ on the streets today.”
Protests against CAA and Shah’s visit spanned the breadth of the city. Left activists took out rallies at Kaikhali, near the Kolkata airport. SFI and DYFI also took out rallies at Shyambazar, Gariahat, Behala and Entally. CPM hit the streets and burnt Shah’s effigy at Jadavpur. Protest rallies were taken out at Moulali and Ram Lila ground. Pradesh Youth Congress organised a stir at the CIT Road and CR Avenue crossing, demanding Shah’s resignation. Chhatra Parishad members, too, staged a dharna at the Dorina crossing.