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TMC-BJP violence: As Mamata promises revenge for Vidyasagar episode, Kolkata Police's failure to prevent conflict raises eyebrows

Kolkata: A day after Kolkata was turned upside down, following the clashes that broke out during BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow, chaos reigned in the West Bengal capital as well as across the state with more than 50 small and big rallies taken out in protest of Tuesday’s violence and vandalism.

On Wednesday, Bengal simmered with allegations, counter-allegations, press conferences and protest rallies. And one of these rallies was of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself, who hit the capital’s streets in the evening.

Condemning the violence, after BJP and TMC activists turned Calcutta University (CU) campus and Vidyasagar College on College Street into a political battleground, Mamata led a massive rally of 75,000 all the way from Kolkata’s Phool Bagan to Shyambazar's Five Point Crossing, bringing back memories of her Writer’s Building march.

Several intellectuals, including poet Srijato, director Arindam Sil and actress June Malia also joined the rally. "Bengal doesn’t want those who vandalised Vidyasagar,” said Sil, referring to the BJP activists, who the TM alleged, smashed a statue of Bengal icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in Vidyasagar College. Malia said, "Now, BJP will learn what the slap of democracy is."

 TMC-BJP violence: As Mamata promises revenge for Vidyasagar episode, Kolkata Polices failure to prevent conflict raises eyebrows

Mamata Banerjee marched with 75,000 supporters against the vandalism of a Vidyasagar statue in Kolkata on Wednesday. Satwik Paul

Even as the city came to a standstill and traffic movement went for a toss, the chief minister marched on and said, “These attacks and the humiliation of my state will not go unpunished. I am keeping a track of everything. I will take revenge for everything inch by inch.”

However, what’s raised many eyebrows and irked the citizens further is reports claiming that the Kolkata Police had information about the violence beforehand and yet did not take action to mitigate its effect.

A delegation comprising BJP national executive member Mukul Roy, BJP's West Bengal vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar, BJP Mahila Morcha president Locket Chatterjee and BJP state committee member Sishir Bajoria met West Bengal governor Kesari Nath Tripathi on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

So what really happened on 14 May?

On Tuesday, clashes broke out during Shah's roadshow in the northern part of the city, after TMC Chatra Parishad members joined hands with SFI members and showed black flags to the BJP president.

The first clash broke out at Calcutta University. Things calmed down for a while after the college security locked the door. But later, as the rally went ahead, approaching Vidyasagar College, all hell broke loose. There are allegations that at least 25 TMC members and Chatra Parishad students were present inside the college and began pelting stones at Shah’s rally.

Amid the chaos that ensued, wherein one group was spotted shouting "Amit Shah Go Back", bricks and stones were hurled and verbal fights broke out between party leaders, with the situation soon spiraling out of control.

In various videos shot by many passers-by and media persons, saffron-attired men were seen ransacking the Vidyasagar College campus and vandalising the statue of Vidyasagar, leaving the citizens fuming.

"Even before we could understand the situation, we saw some BJP men throwing stones at students. Some even went inside the college with sticks and bricks. Within the next five minutes, the college gate was set on fire, as was a bike. I could not sleep all night," said Bijan Samaddar, a shopkeeper in the area.

Why are the cops under scanner?

The very first information about the security situation during the roadshow that’s got the media buzzing raises many questions about the Kolkata Police’s role and credibility in the incident.

Sources in Lalbazar confirmed that the Kolkata Police special branch had advance information about a possible clash on College Street; they also knew that Chatra Parishad and SFI had come together to show black flags to Shah.

Students march near Hedua Park in Kolkata on Wednesday. 101Reporters

Students march near Hedua Park in Kolkata on Wednesday. Satwik Paul

The information shared with the police had warned of a counter-attack by the BJP if a clash was allowed to erupt as a large group of BJP cadre from neighbouring states were reportedly arriving in West Bengal.

A source in Kolkata Police’s special branch said, “The police knew that a clash of this sort was a possibility. When just one SUCI rally comes towards Lalbazar, the police make sure 200 personnel are deployed. So, it's bewildering how for an event like this not even 50 personnel were present at the spot."

Finally, in a 3 am crackdown on Wednesday, the Kolkata Police filed two FIRs and arrested 58 people (including Tejinder Bagga, a top BJP leader from Delhi), most of whom are reportedly from outside Bengal.

"It could be said that most are from Bihar and Jharkhand. They didn’t even know whose statue they were vandalising," said a senior police officer.

After violence, political potshots follow

Meanwhile, Shah, during a press conference in Delhi on Wednesday, said, “I wouldn’t have got away unhurt without CRPF’s protection."

On the allegation of BJP activists vandalising Vidyasagar’s statue, he added, “The gates were shut. Our roadshow and workers were outside; the bust was inside a room, which would presumably have been locked and its keys with the college management. How then could we have broken the statue?”

BJP leaders have accused TMC activists of attacking Shah and his roadshow. The BJP national president, during the press conference, also claimed that Mamata and the state police were scared to make the CCTV footage of the violence public.

TMC, however, refused to be put on the back foot and hit back after Shah’s press conference by releasing the said video footage. MP Derek O’Brien released videos to prove his party’s claim that BJP workers were responsible for the damage.

Mamata, too, held a public meeting in Agarpara and played a video with her phone near the mic. "Any two people (from the audience) can come up on the stage and check these videos out,” she said. In the video she played, a voice could be heard instructing some people to deal with the TMC and the police strictly and even "violently, if needed".

Senior Left leader Sitaram Yechury, on the other hand, said, "This TMC-BJP-created chaos has hit the heart and core of Bengal. They cannot be allowed to get away with this. The two parties continue to attempt communal polarisation and insult the people of Bengal who have always stood for social harmony and pluralism. The Left Front is working with the people to defeat these forces.

“Vidyasagar was an important part of Bengal’s renaissance. His social contributions changed the course of the national movement and ensured that India became free,” he added.

All’s still not well

With the situation going from bad to worse, there was much protest and anger reverberating across social media as well. Citizens, intellectuals, and celebrities all banded together to upload posts condemning the vandalism. Besides this, the TMC and its youth wing took out at least 50 rallies across the state’s districts.

On Wednesday, a students’ rally kept the north Kolkata roads jammed. The major meeting points remained Vivekananda’s ancestral house on Vivekananda Road, Hedua Park, and areas near Vidyasagar College. A few students showed up with copies of Barnaparichoy, written by Vidyasagar, at BJP Bengal’s office in the morning.

Students protest outside Vidyasagar College. 101Reporters

Students protest outside Vidyasagar College. Satwik Paul

Jatin Das (19), a resident of Uttarpara who came with his friends, said, “We four don’t belong to any political party. We are students, and we came here to fight back against those who vandalised the statue and are still playing politics around the mayhem.”

A Chatra Parishad member, identified as Kalam, said, "BJP says save democracy. How? By calling out names? At its rally we hear slogans like ‘Trinamool’er chamra gutiye debo amra (We’ll skin the TMC supporters)’. We will shame them.”

EC invokes Article 324, poll campaigning to end on Thrusday at 10 pm

According to PTI, in first such action in India's electoral history, the Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday ordered campaigning in nine West Bengal constituencies to end at 10 PM on Thursday, a day before its scheduled deadline.

The EC also ordered the removal of Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director General, CID, Rajeev Kumar from their postings in West Bengal.

Mamata condemned the EC decision to implement Article 324, terming it an "unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical gift" to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the poll panel.
She also said she had never seen this type of EC which is "full of RSS people".

"There is no such law and order problem in West Bengal that Article 324 can be clamped. It is unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical. It is actually a gift to Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah," she claimed in a press conference.

The author is Kolkata-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: May 16, 2019 00:28:32 IST