A seminar on refugees of Balochistan and Kashmir, which was scheduled to have Tarek Fatah among the speakers, was cancelled abruptly, the organisers alleged on Thursday. Swadhikar Bangla Foundation had planned the seminar, ‘Sufferings of People of Kashmir and Balochistan and What the World Wants to Know’, at Calcutta Club on January 7. The foundation said the club cancelled the seminar after officials shared apprehensions of “further problems in the city”.
The police and the government denied any role in the cancellation, stating that it was the club’s administrative decision.
In an email from the club, the organisers were told that the cancellation was due to “unavoidable circumstances” and that the club wanted to “ensure a cordial atmosphere” on its premises. But Calcutta Club president Wg Cdr (retd) K K Biswas refused to elaborate what these circumstances were. “This is very unfortunate. The club would not like to comment,” he told The Indian Express.
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Fatah, an author and commentator, told The Indian Express, “What I have learnt is that the police cancelled the event and specifically mentioned my name. They said I was anti-Pakistan and hence the Muslim population in Kolkata would have a problem with me. I am flabbergasted if this is true. The only conclusion to draw from this is that the Islamists who support Mamata Banerjee are pro-Pakistan, otherwise why would there be communal disharmony.” He alleged that Calcutta Club had initially pressured the organisers to delete the word ‘Kashmir’ from the posters and cancelled his stay at the club.
Swadhikar Bangla Foundation was registered as a private incorporation with the Registrar of Companies in Kolkata on October 19, 2016. The group’s founder chairman, Colonel (retd) Diptanshu Chowdhury, is a Kargil veteran and BJP leader who contested from Asansol South in the 2016 state polls and finished third. The organisation organised a symposium on triple talaq in December, where the speakers included BJP leaders Sambit Patra and Dilip Ghosh.
Chowdhury said, “Suddenly, the club told us to omit the name of Kashmir from the programme and not to call two speakers known for their anti-Pakistan statements. We said it is not possible, following which the club informed us that the police were not willing to give us permission, apprehending problems in the city.”
He added, “The club committee officially declined to host this unique event. This discreetly violates the fundamental rights of citizens of Kolkata to exchange views on Kashmir and Balochistan, the two issues raised by PM Narendra Modi. We see clear interference of Kolkata Police.”
A senior Trinamool leader denied that the government had any role in the cancellation of the seminar, and alleged that the BJP “was intentionally trying to create communal strife in the state”. “The event has been organised by the BJP under a different banner with the ultimate aim of trying to spread tension,” he alleged.
Vinit Goel, Additional Commissioner of Police, said, “The club wanted permission and later informed us they had cancelled the programme. There was no question of Kolkata Police denying permission.”
A member of Calcutta Club said, “It was communicated to us by the government that it was felt that the event could potentially cause unnecessary tension. This was done through unofficial channels.”