Chants of “goli maaro” reached the heart of Calcutta on a day Union minister Amit Shah addressed a public meeting in the city and went into a strategy huddle aimed at capturing power in Bengal that stretched close to midnight.
Footage showed groups of men, some dressed in saffron and waving BJP flags, marching towards the Shahid Minar ground, where the state unit of the party had organised the rally to felicitate Shah on the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
“Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro…,” the groups chanted as they marched along J.L. Nehru Road to the rally ground.
The slogan could not have come at a more inopportune moment: northeast Delhi is yet to recover from last week’s riots that killed over 40 people. Many of the victims had suffered bullet wounds.
The outrageous slogan also brought back to the fore the proponents’ cultural disconnect with Bengal — almost the same way it was on display when a bust of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was vandalised during the Lok Sabha polls. Then, too, the tail-enders of a roadshow by Shah were blamed for the vandalism.
Another “coincidence”: it was in Bengal that Shah had test-fired the now-infamous statement of intent on the citizenship matrix. “Aap chronology samajh lijiye,” Shah had told a general-election rally in Bengal: “Understand the chronology, first we will bring Citizenship Amendment Bill and after that we will bring National Register of Citizens (NRC), and NRC will not only be for Bengal but for the entire country.”
Since the anti-CAA protests mounted, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others have been playing down suggestions of a nationwide NRC.
The “goli maaro” slogan targeting anti-CAA protesters had featured at some BJP campaign rallies for the February 8 Delhi elections. The slogan has since assumed a lethal ring amid multiple incidents of attacks on protesters, including at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, against the new citizenship matrix. Such chants have been partly blamed for the Delhi riots.
The slogan-shouting in Calcutta was particularly menacing as the city is home to a Shaheen-Bagh-like vigil at Park Circus that has been going on for over 50 days.
In the aftermath of the BJP’s drubbing in the Delhi polls, Shah had said hate speeches like “goli maaro” should not have been made. He acknowledged that such comments may have resulted in the party’s defeat.
On Sunday, however, it appeared that little had changed on the ground.
“BJP leaders should remember that it is not Delhi. It is Bengal and no one trying to provoke people would be spared…. This is not a slogan, this is provocation,” a source close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee said. “The police have already identified some of the people who were shouting provocative chants. Strict action would be initiated against them,” the source added.
BJP sources said the men were from the party’s south suburban unit, blamed for the vandalism on the Jadavpur University campus on September 19 after a controversy involving Union minister Babul Supriyo. The same unit is alleged to have been involved in several untoward incidents in and around Jadavpur in the recent past.
No senior state BJP leader was available on record for comment on the incendiary slogans. But Bankura MP Subhash Sarkar alleged that the men were “Trinamul plants”, in order to shift the focus from Shah’s speech at the rally on topics like Kashmir, Ayodhya and next year’s Assembly polls.
A Calcutta police officer said: “A complaint has been made and we have started the process of identification. Such chants endanger the lives of those protesting peacefully…. We will press strict charges.”
Several Trinamul sources said the chief minister would dwell at length on Shah’s speech and the slogan at a party meeting on Monday at Netaji Indoor Stadium.
“She specifically instructed against statements by others today except for a tweet by Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee. She will take up the issues herself and destroy Shah’s arguments in her speech on Monday,” a Trinamul leader said.