However much the CPI(M) may be dithering over a poll alliance with the Congress, Karl Marx may yet have got his wish. It is as if the state has begun to wither away. If Delhi witnessed policemen trying to maintain peace and prevent things from going out of hand by allowing lawyers to hit out at accused, sundry "anti-nationals" and mediapersons in court premises, the scenes that Kolkata witnessed on Thursday afternoon was unprecedented even by its proverbially volatile standards.
The city woke up to the ominous news that Jadavpur university, never a placid place even in the best of times, was once again to be a scene of action, maybe even see some violence. The ABVP had announced that it was going to descend on Jadavpur to protest its harbouring of "anti-national" students who had already taken out a march in support of JNU students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar where some "anti-national" slogans may or may not have been heard.
Till the 9 February, a call by ABVP would hardly have attracted any notice in a city familiar only with the Left's alphabet soup in its citadels of learning, SFI, AISF, DSO, etc., Congress's Chhatra Parishad and, in the last few years, Trinamool's student unions. AVBP is no factor at all in this part of the world.
Yet, the poison unleashed in Delhi has begun to leach across the country. Yesterday, Rahul Sinha, who was the president of BJP's Bengal unit till the other day, had lashed out against the students of JNU and JU in no uncertain terms. Echoing his brothers in Delhi, Sinha said things like it is understandable the lawyers lost their cool, blood will boil at such anti-national slogans and demanding due recognition for his party MP O.P Sharma's bold and honourable stand against the "deshdrohis" at Patiala House Court.
Today, the reaction was predictable. Left students of all shades of red were milling around the gates of their university to block the entry of any saffron flag; teachers bravely standing in front of them to prevent any "undesirable incident", evidently lacking confidence in the state's representative to maintain peace; policemen loitering around, clutching their walkie-talkies, desperately praying for instructions from on high. Their white uniforms were noticeable but not wholly reassuring. No one knew what instructions had or had not been given.
Bengal's chief minister, like our nation's Prime Minister, is never shy of the camera or the microphone. In fact, every announcement, the smallest step by the government or things that have nothing to do with the government like Sourav Ganguly taking over at the Cricket Association of Bengal, are proudly announced by Mamata Banerjee and due credit taken. Last year, when Jadavpur University was up in flames over the vice-chancellor's handling of a sexual harassment case and a widely supported movement for his removal gained momentum across the city, it was Didi who came down to the campus and assured the students, in person, that she was doing the needful, the VC was being sent packing. He was. The Kolkata municipal corporation elections were in the offing and Mamata Banerjee was not going to take her student constituency lightly.
But ten days have gone by since that fateful 9 February meeting of students at JNU and not a peep out of Didi and her men. According to Rajya Sabha MP and spokesman for the party on national television thanks to his fluency in the English language, Derek O'Brien, they were still taking stock of the unfolding events. Even though he was one of the two Trinamool respresentatives Mamata Banerjee had sent post-haste to Hyderabad University after Rohith Vermula's tragic suicide there.
Didi of course cannot be happy at the turn of events. It's a sort of straight fight between the Left and the BJP, with the Congress, as is its wont nowadays, jumping on to the passing bandwagon. Go with BJP, you alienate your sizeable Muslim vote, the key to her victory in the upcoming assembly elections. Go with the Left and you strengthen your opponent's hands. Seeing Sitaram Yechury and Rahul Gandhi sitting side by side at the protest meeting at JNU on the 10th of February was like seeing her worst nightmare in reality. Indecision, indecision.
Meanwhile, the BJP has picked up the baton and begun running. The ABVP march, as could be expected, had only a sprinkling of students and was made up mostly of (older) BJP leaders and followers with two pretty faces, film stars Rupa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee, at its head. They carried not the BJP flag but, to emphasise their nationalism plank, the flag of India. It is no longer about students any more, anti-national or not; it is all about politics now in a state about to go to polls and for a party which hardly got much television air time otherwise.
Suddenly, a handful of ABVP students break the cordon and try to breach the university gate. The opposing students rush up. The police, caught by surprise, are nowhere to be seen. There are images of students running about, AVBP students lying on the road, refusing to be dislodged, but not failing to give television bytes from that awkward position. The words are what we have heard from leaders and minions in Delhi - evidently the official line from Jhandenwala House.
As if there was not enough chaos already, a reporter announced that a procession of Congress students was headed thataway. Even though the police had apparently said they would give no one else permission to take out marches in that part of town today. So much for taking police orders seriously. Evidently, the much-vaunted "people's alliance" between the Left and the Congress had actually started happening.
Finally it was all an anti-climax. The BJP soon lost steam, a true reflection of its potency in this state; the students receded triumphant, the teachers heaved a sigh of relief. The police still not sure what to do next. There is no word yet from the only one who matters. Evidently, she is too busy making back of the envelope calculations. Maybe someone could tell her that keeping quiet for narrow political gains can be counterproductive.
"First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Communist.
"Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
"Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Jew.
"Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."
Didi, we are waiting to hear from you.