Sounds of Public Rallies
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The association of Kolkata with politics goes back to the colonial era, particularly in the late 19th and 20th century. The city exudes a real passion when it comes to political activities and the brand of politics practised here, is essentially exclusive to its identity as the former political capital of India.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Kolkata had witnessed rampant protests demanding independence from the colonizers. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894), an eminent novelist of Bengal wrote the song Vande Mataram; which, as a slogan, inspired the nationalists to protest colonial rule particularly in street demonstrations. The Anti-Partition movement of 1905 against the proposed division of Bengal, was a cumulative effort of the national leadership which came to streets in long processions, slogans and songs. This turbulent period also prompted Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) to compose Amar Sonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal) which later was declared the national anthem of Bangladesh. A major shift in agenda took place around 1957 when a strong voice of urban protest found its place around the Brigade Parade Ground (Maidan), which, located in the central part of the city, is the most significant venue for events and meetings for all political parties in Bengal. The leftist parties were the major proponents of such political rallies, especially during the emergency in 1975, protesting against the civil disorder and governmental policies.
The liberation war of Vietnam against America has been an inspiration to a large number of people of Bengal. This has been in effect reflected in the protest chant, coined in the 1960s which says, Amar naam, tomar naam; Vietnam Vietnam, roughly translated as ‘My name, your name; Vietnam Vietnam’. Other popular combative slogans conceived by the protesters include:
‘Lorai lorai lorai chai,/Lorai korey bachte chai;/Lorai korey peyechi ja,/Lorai korey rakhbo ta. [Fight, fight and fight only needed; / Fight needed to survive;/ All that achieved by fighting/ Have to be retained by fighting.]
Such powerful slogans have been integral parts of the city’s protest marches even in the present times. Modern day rallies are marked by posters and banners highlighting the cause, and the gatherings would ideally be held at Metro Channel, Esplanade or the Brigade. Often rallies and public marches are organized by ‘non-political’ bodies.The proceedings would include hundreds of people walking through, singing revolutionary songs out loud and shouting slogans,or in some occasions in silent rallies. Sometimes, the rallies are accompanied by orchestra bands, a sight often seen around Sealdah, in rallies organized by different political organizations. Most of the activists participating in the mass rallies usually come down from the city outskirts in loaded trucks and tempos and suburban trains. Their voices are reverberated loudly across the streets of Kolkata, almost like asserting themselves an identity in the threshold of the big city. These gatherings are often critiqued as traffic-chokers causing hardship to urban commuters but nothing seems to decline the spirit of the rallies.
Apart from big public rallies, there are small street-corner meetings attended by a few number of people organized by political parties or other organizations. But in all rallies, big or small, the use of loudspeakers is the commonest feature, which blart out the speakers’ vociferous speech to passing traffic and even to unwilling ears.