Kolkata is the City of Joy. However, in terms of work and employment, it may not be so joyful right now. Big industries are still avoiding their gaze towards the eastern state and its metropolis. But the city has something that no power, political or otherwise, can topple. Kolkata has a soul and tolerance; it accepts all communities and race, to make them her own.
I hail from this colonial city that has produced some of the greatest minds and talents that India has seen. The ongoing joke, however, is that Bengal revels in its past glory. Except for Sourav Ganguly, we have thrown up little onto the national stage in recent years. But let's also not forget the firebrand leader, Mamata Banerjee. For all that she faces flak for; Mamata is still a leader to be reckoned with. Her pulse on the state and its people is unshakeable, and those who feel that they can unsettle her grip over Bengal by creating trouble, probably don't know her very well.
Didi will fight tooth and nail to ensure that no outside power makes her lose her sway. The West Bengal chief minister may be over-confident at times but she is never complacent. She may have wrongly assumed that she would be able to wrench control in the Hills and render the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) powerless. The Hill party has stood its ground and refused to be a pushover. This won't be a cakewalk for Mamata but eventually, she will be able to restore normalcy.
And stay rest assured that there will not be any complacency in her tackling of the BJP. With a spurt in incidents of communal tension in the state, Mamata is watching the ruling party's every move. Even the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat's low-key visit next week (his second in six months) is being closely monitored. However, Bhagwat is unlikely to cross paths with the CM, given that his entire itinerary keeps him stationed at Rajarhat or New Town, a planned satellite town near Kolkata. But party leaders say that ever since Bhagwat addressed a Hindu Sammelan at the Brigade Parade Grounds in January this year, Mamata and the entire TMC top brass have been holding vigil. TMC's plan is to contain the incidents of communal tension and most definitely stop its spread into other parts of the state, especially Kolkata.
I was in my city couple of weeks ago right in the middle of the ongoing communal tension in Basirhat and violent protests of Darjeeling. Even as local and national newspapers screamed of unrest in the state, Kolkata was its usual self – sometimes sleepy, sometimes chaotic. Except for the students of Jadavpur University protesting against the atrocities in the Hills, one would have no inkling of rising tensions in the state. Mamata has been able to retain peace in Kolkata, at least for now.
It takes a while to find one's bearing in the city. The continuous honking of vehicles definitely doesn't help the cause. But slowly, you once again fall back into that familiar rhythm. You learn to block the vehicular sound pollution, ignore the small mounds of garbage that is collecting on pavements, and feel moments of joy on zipping across the city on the new 'MAA' flyover. Food, especially street food, never tastes better anywhere else, and almost everyone has time for a smile and a chat.
It's also one of the few cities where communities co-exist relatively peacefully. Take for example the Park Circus area of central Kolkata. Within a 5 km radius, you will find Birla Mandir, smaller roadside temples, Christ the King church, St Paul's Cathedral, smaller chapels, and several mosques singing their 'azaan' through the day. Growing up in the area, the early morning azaan was my wake-up call for last minute cramming in the exam season. Church bells meant evening mass was near and a time to relax and perhaps meet some friends.
The area also boasts of a robust market that sells all meats - no community has a problem with that. People are governed by an unsaid rule – 'live and let live'. This kind of tolerance and co-existence may be rare in many other Indian cities. There are no forceful ghettos inhabited by only a single community. In most parts of older Kolkata such as Park Circus, Free School Street, Park Street etc., Anglo-Indians, Muslims, Marwaris, Bengalis, all live together in an age-old bonhomie.
It is this camaraderie and brotherhood that Mamata wants to protect. The incidents of communal tension must die down quickly and never ever reach the city limits. If they do, then there indeed will be trouble, both for the city and its inclusiveness, as well as for Mamata, the politician.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)