Ekushe July: Remembering the Martyrs
On July 21, over a million people converged in the heart of the city, in a show of solidarity and strength, for what is becoming the defining feature of the City in July. Every year, under the tutelage of Mamata Banerjee and her trusted Lieutenant, Abhishek Banerjee, it has been going from strength to strength, drawing more and more people, reliving, remembering and paying homage to the past, and the cataclysmic event and people that led to the creation of the Trinamool Congress.
On this fateful day in 1993, 13 youth congress workers, under the leadership of Banerjee were gunned down during a rally, protesting the rigging of elections by the then Communist Government. It was this event which provided the impetus which led to the formation of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC). Some still debate whether the use of force by the Police against unarmed civilians was justified. It is difficult to conceive of any situation, where unarmed civilians and political opponents, with no prior proclivity towards violence, are disbursed with bullets.
The number 13 proved to very unlucky for the Communist government and with the benefit of hindsight is perhaps the most seminal event, which has given rise to the present day, where the CPI(M) exists more in people’s unpleasant memories than in the constituencies. Soon memories shall fade, and the little space and relevance that the CPI(M) occupies in the national and regional polity today shall diminish further, but the sacrifices of the 13 shall always be remembered.
Every revolution has its Martyrs. It is no one’s case that the mercurial rise of the TMC and Banerjee, after 34 years of left misrule is anything short of a revolution. Rarely are Martyrs remembered and are at most paid lip service during elections to drum up passions. Some parties are not beyond appropriating National Icons when it is convenient. Even the Congress, whose members these 13 people were at that time, has long forgotten its dead. It has gone ahead and joined hands with the perpetrators, forgetting and forgiving, in its blind quest for power. It has tried to take back the people of Bengal to the dark and gloomy days of the communist regime and used every trick up its sleeve to dispel the Mamata wave which has swept Bengal.
This is where the approach of the TMC is different from the other national and regional parties. Rarely does the cult of a personality, accommodate the grass root. July 21 has become a celebration of the grass roots, where Banerjee abdicates her chair to the people and acknowledges the Martyrs and the people of Bengal, who have repeatedly shown their trust in her. One will be hard pressed to find a more genuine gesture.
The wonderful and meticulous organisational skill of Abhishek Banerjee, reminiscent of Banerjee’s younger days, which was recently on display during the election, has ensured that event was flawlessly executed and there was little room for complaint. July 21 is Banerjee’s homage to the past, to the people who were with her in the darkness, before dawn. For Banerjee knows, if you forget where you came from, you will forget how far you have come.
(The author is an advocate of the Calcutta High Court)