Students raise slogans outside Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (PTI Photo: Swapan Mahapatra)
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta was at the receiving end of anti-CAA protests for the second time this month, after his session at the Kolkata Literary Meet (Kalam 2020) was interrupted Wednesday. Despite tight security at the event, students managed to enter his talk at Victoria Memorial Hall and raise slogans against the leader.
The session resumed after the students, allegedly representing the Revolutionary Students' Front (RSF), were removed by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). However, they continued their protest outside the venue.
Earlier this month, Dasgupta was locked in a room at the Visva Bharati University campus for over seven hours by members of the SFI. They were protesting against the university’s decision to invite Dasgupta to deliver a lecture on the citizenship law.
Dasgupta was speaking at Kalam 2020 along with Visva Bharati University Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty and Dr Kunal Sarkar. The session was titled 'Awakening Bharat Mata' (the title of Dasgupta's latest book).
Speaking about the incident, Dasgupta said, "It wasn't a major incident at all. Nothing happened, except that those who wanted to attend, even possibly debate the issue, had to be kept out. Those who raised slogans had grievances about Visva Bharati and their own issues with the V-C, of which I know very little... but he wasn't at the session as the vice-chancellor, merely as someone who has written on a similar subject.
Their perspective was that someone like me shouldn't be given a platform at all. I don't find that point of view acceptable. I don't deny anyone their right to protest," Dasgupta added.
On his experience at the Visva Bharati campus, Dasgupta said, "The V-C had invited me, as well as people with other points of view, to be part of a panel, but once again, they said they wouldn't share a platform with me. What disturbs me is this 'no-platforming' issue, which is increasingly becoming a fashion, at least in Kolkata, and a few universities too. Even some Western universities are getting more and more affected by this sort of thing."
While members of the RSF couldn't be reached for comments, an eyewitness Sudipto Saha claimed protesters were "manhandled" by the CISF. "While everyone should have a voice, we already knew what Dasgupta was going to say, which goes against the principles for which many Indians are currently fighting," he said. Saha had also put out a Facebook post condemning Kalam for allowing Dasgupta a platform.
Another eyewitness who didn't wish to be named said most audience members began leaving the session once the fracas began, and that some of the protesters repeatedly asked audience members not to take photographs or videos. They were asked to use the North Gate to leave the venue since the East Gate remained closed.
A member of the core organising committee said, "All security matters are handled by the CISF at Victoria, and we have no say in the matter. We repeatedly appealed to everyone concerned to refrain from violence."
Incidentally, the CISF has been in charge of security at the heritage monument since 2018.