A countrywide referendum is required to ascertain if India is ready for the Citizenship (Amdendment) Act, (CAA), said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. She was addressing her fourth anti-CAA rally in a row in Kolkata on Thursday.
“We would like to know how many [people] are for CAA and how many are against it. If majority does not agree to it, will you [the Prime Minister] resign?” Ms. Banerjee asked, targeting PM Narendra Modi. The referendum can be carried out by independent bodies like the United Nations or any impartial international organisation,” she said.
Kolkata witnessed five rallies during the day, of which the rally held without the support of political parties drew no less than 20,000 people. The rally, organised mainly by civil society representatives, students and activists, demanded the scrapping of the CAA and the non-implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
People from all walks of life were carrying national flags, placards, posters and banners with the demand to scrap the CAA. Most of the placards said “no CAA, no NRC” in the country and in Bengal. The demand to “remove Modi, save democracy” was loud and clear. Musicians armed with various instruments played songs in multiple languages.
Gopi Aika, a Telugu-speaking activist residing in Kolkata for many decades said that this “rally can only be compared with the anti-land acquisition rally in Kolkata in 2007.” It too was “spontaneous, without any political support, like this one”, he said.
A student activist from Assam, who is studying in Kolkata, said that he participated in pro-NRC rallies in Guwahati. “Now I am attending anti-NRC rally here with Bengali friends but then, that is India,” said Santanu Gogoi, a liberal arts student.
The civil society rally, however, was truncated on S.N. Banerjee Road connecting to the city’s central area at Esplanade, where Ms. Banerjee was addressing her rally.
In the Esplanade meeting, Ms. Banerjee condemned the detention of historian Ramachandra Guha. She alleged that prohibitory orders under Section 144 of Criminal Penal Code have been issued in States ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, and, “This is thoroughly undemocratic to use police against democratic movement.”
About a dozen Baul singers played brass bells and chanted “we are all citizens” from Ms. Banerjee’s stage, she played the instrument, too. “This protest movement is not for a particular community. This is a fight for the existence of all of us,” she said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also brought out a rally in support of CAA in south Kollkata. Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, who addressed another public rally at Bankura, accused the CMacting against the destruction of public property. “No Indian would destroy national property. Those who damaged public property in Paschim Banga for three days with the Chief Minister’s support are the enemies of India,” Mr. Ghosh said.
The 17-party coalition of the Left held its rally, which covered a distance of over 2 km from the Ramlila Maidan to Park Circus. Nearly all the senior leaders of the Left Front attended the rally, which too drew thousands of people. Senior State Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leaders Surjyakanta Mishra, Left Front chairman Biman Bose, Communist Party of India leader Swapan Bandyopadhyay, Revolutionary Socialist Party leader Manoj Chakraborty were among those who were at the forefront of the rally.
“The government has failed. It has failed to do essential work for the people and thus focused on distracting us using religious issues,” said Biman Bose, chairperson of the Left Front. Left leaders condemned “undemocratic police action” on eminent citizens like Ramachandra Guha, Tanika Sarkar and Harsh Mander. “What kind of country this is now? [Is this] my beloved India? It does not seem like that,” said Mr. Bose.
The CPI(M)’s Politburo member Mohammed Salim said that the BJP will “never be able to use the draconian law to send any Bengali on the other side of the barbed wire”.
Congress workers in the city also protested in a unique way, carrying an effigy symbolising what Congressmen said was the “dead body of the Constitution of India” on their shoulders. They too marched in central Kolkata displaying “No NRC, No CAA” placards and posters.
Traffic in the Kolkata’s central areas came to a standstill for hours following the five rallies.