West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today said she had chosen the date August 16 to observe Khela Diwas or Day of Sport as a mark of respect to sixteen football fans who died in a stampede during a football match on this day in 1980 at Kolkata’s Eden Garden stadium.
Yesterday, in her annual Trinamool Martyrs’ Day speech delivered virtually, she said she wanted to commemorate the slogan and the spirit it symbolised on this day. Coined by a young party leader, the slogan became an anthem in the Assembly poll campaign.
But today’s explanation on why August 16 was chosen was possibly a response to criticism of her choice of date by Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta, known to be close to the BJP.
Mr Dasgupta had yesterday tweeted that August 16 was the day the Muslim League launched its Direct-Action Day in 1946 that triggered the great Calcutta killings — communal riots in which many lives were lost.
“In today’s West Bengal, Khela Hobe has come to symbolise a wave of terror attacks on opponents. Interesting Mamata Banerjee has declared August 16 as Khela Hobe Diwas,” he said.
His tweet reinforced BJP claims of widespread post-poll violence in Bengal. The matter is in fact currently in Calcutta High Court.
“16 August used to be commemorated by many sporting clubs earlier. But that is dying out now. That’s why we have chosen to mark Khela Hobe Diwas on August 16,” Ms Banerjee said.
“In the coming days, Khela Hobe indeed. To protect civilization and culture, sports, the sporting spirit is very important. Those who are misinterpreting don’t understand that spirit,” Ms Banerjee said, adding, “Khela Hobe has become a theme across India. We are happy about that. So, we have fixed a day to celebrate the spirit.”
On 16 August this year, the state’s sports and youth department will distribute one lakh footballs to sporting clubs across the state. 283 clubs of the Indian Football Association will get 10 footballs each. The rest will go to clubs in villages.
“50,000 ‘joyee’ footballs have already been made by our mothers and sisters,” the Chief Minister said. “Joyee” is the brand name of footballs being made by an NGO run by former footballers.
August 16 is also a day after Independence Day. “But our freedoms are being threatened today. We need to defend that. We need to fight for freedom of speech,” Ms Banerjee added.
Yesterday, in her Martyrs Day speech, Ms Banerjee had attacked the BJP and said, “Khela Hobe in many states and will continue till the BJP is ousted from power in the country.”