In Kolkata’s chess corner, ‘confusion’ prevails over electoral prospects

Maintaining calm amidst the chaos that is the Gariahat intersection, the people who gather here for the adda and chess usually have a finger on the pulse of the city

Published - May 14, 2024 02:02 am IST - Kolkata

The general opinion in Gariahat is that while PM Modi is most likely to sail through into a third term, the battle in West Bengal is still uncertain.

The general opinion in Gariahat is that while PM Modi is most likely to sail through into a third term, the battle in West Bengal is still uncertain. | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Gariahat intersection is the nerve centre of Kolkata where, amidst frenetic activity, people calmly play chess all day, and where public opinion usually reflects what the city is thinking. And in this general election, “confusion” is how this tiny island of thought sums up the general mood in the city over which party will win.

“The situation for the BJP here is different from what it is in other places. Here, in Kolkata, even if they don’t want to vote for the Trinamool Congress, they may still not want to vote for the BJP because it is being led by people who belonged to Trinamool not too long ago,” said Abhijit Bhattacharya, an investment consultant who, as he does on most evenings, has stopped by here to watch a few games of chess before heading home.

“(Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has done well. Market is growing, foreign investment is growing, NRIs have good things to say about India, and it is quite possible that the BJP will win again, but I wish they were represented by fresh faces in Bengal,” Mr. Bhattacharya said, even as he had an eye on the game in progress on one of the tables — he was also periodically giving tips to one of the players.

This small island at the traffic intersection of Gariahat, right under a flyover, is a strong childhood memory for countless Kolkatans because, before malls came up, this was the primary shopping hub of the city. Initially, the intersection was a place for adda (a gathering for stimulating conversation), then chessboards surfaced and the game became an addition to the adda.

Over time, chess became serious business here and, nowadays, there are half-a-dozen tables on which games go on from morning till late in the night, with many people, young and old, men and women, making it a habit to be present here in the evenings. Maintaining a calm amidst the chaos that is Gariahat, they people usually have a finger on the pulse of the city.

“No matter who wins, there should be a strong Opposition. Without a strong Opposition, there would be no democracy, we will have dictatorship, they will pass any bill they wish,” said Salil Kumar Das, a retired employee of Indian Bank who comes to Gariahat these days wearing a medal he won recently at a chess tournament in West Bengal.

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When asked what he thought were the issues on the basis of which people like him would vote, Mr. Das said, “Religion is certainly not an issue in Kolkata. It may be an issue in villages or in other cities, but not here.”

Gariahat, coming under the Kolkata Dakshin Lok Sabha constituency, is a Trinamool Congress stronghold and until the last elections, most people gathered around the chessboards would be vocal about their support for Mamata Banerjee. But this time, they are being cautious about making enthusiastic claims and predictions.

“People in rural Bengal will think differently from people in Kolkata. Here, within the city, there are no major problems, no chaotic conditions,” Rituparna Chakraborty, one of the organisers of the chess club, said.

The general opinion in Gariahat is that while Mr. Modi is most likely to sail through into a third term, the battle in West Bengal is still uncertain — people wanting to vote for the BJP may still not vote for it because it is led by people who until recently were powerful members of the ruling Trinamool. As a result, while the crowd seems to have an idea of what might happen at the Centre once the results are out, they are not at all sure which party will stand to gain in West Bengal — a state they call confusion.

“Of late I hear a lot of people saying that the Communist era was better. There was no confusion about who belongs where. There was clarity,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.

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