KGSPL OFFICIALS TRIED to use the police to suppress Mohun Bagan fans who supported the 'Remove ATK' movement, allege a group of Mariners.
Through various social media posts including a video of the incident, fans belonging to the Mohun Bagan supporters' group Mariners de Xtreme (MDX) said certain officials on ground were behind an attempt to take down their peaceful display of a 'Remove ATK' banners at the Salt Lake Stadium during an AFC Cup 2022 group stage match on Saturday.
Kolkata Games & Sports Private Limited (KGSPL), the majority shareholders of the football arm of the multi-sport club Mohun Bagan AC, had previouly banned the fans from bringing flags and banners into the stadium. This uncharasteristic dictat was seen as an effort to silence the Mohun Bagan fans who have been vocal against KGSPL's long-standing PR campaign and statements that misrepresented the Mohun Bagan football team (which currently uses the brand name ATK Mohun Bagan FC) as a "new merged club" in order to highlight the 'ATK' brand prefix. The Mohun Bagan fans have hit back against this narrative with the demands of 'Remove ATK' and 'Break The Merger', making both terms trend on social media multiple times, apart from multiple real life protest events.
The ban on flags and banners, which the Bidhan Nagar Police were asked to uphold, have led to arguments between fans and the police multiple times. Last month, an elderly fan dressed in mourning attire was asked by police to take off the green-and-maroon flag he was wearing as a shawl at the stadium gate, to which he strongly objected. Mohun Bagan fans stood their ground and kept on chanting until the police relented and allowed flags to be carried inside.
The Mariners also regularly defiend the ban on tifos and banners, sneaking them in to put their demand of 'Remove ATK' on display.
Members of MDX had done the same thing on Saturday's match. But this time, they were allegedly asked by four KGSPL officials to take down their two banners. The fans responded with anti-ATK chants.
The officials, in response, allegedly called the police and asked them to take the banners down. A few officers on duty approached the fans, but things did not go the way the KGSPL officials wanted.
According to a member of MDX who was present at the spot,
"The officer spoke to us very nicely. I think they saw us holding the banner in rain and chanting even when everyone else ran to the back to avoid getting drenched. They understood our dedication behind our cause and probably felt bad for us."
According to the member, MDX responded to the police officers with respect,
"They told us to take down the banner. We told them, if you want to take it down, we can't stop you, but please let us keep this banner. We told them we're doing a civilised protest, the banner did not contain any offensive words. We said if we can't speak our mind here during the match how would we get our message across?"
Seeing the police gather around MDX, other fans also came forward to help them,
"Even those who were not participating in our protest came forward to stand by us. They did not want the 'Remove ATK' banners to be taken down. It was very moving, we felt so grateful. The police officer said to one of our members, I'm holding your hand and requesting you, please take it down. He said, sir, I will touch your feet and request you, please let it stay. It was a very amicable back and forth."
A video shared on Facebook appears to confirm the fan's claims about the incident.
In the end the banner stayed up and the fans continued their peaceful protest. The KGSPL officials who allegedly tried to take down the banner did not come back for the rest of the match.
Two of the fans who participated in the demonstration later came down with a light fever, due to prolonged exposure to rain. The thunder-rainstorm had stopped the match on ground for quite a while, but the Mohun Bagan fans' 'Remove ATK' protest kept going; as it has for almost two years now.