KOLKATA – BJP national president Amit Shah’s roadshow led to a major law and order crisis in the state capital as a large number of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members clashed with Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TMCP) supporters at College Street on Tuesday evening.
While Shah escaped unhurt, he was forced to cut short the roadshow and had to be escorted to safety by police, reported News18.
ABVP supporters barged in to the nearby Vidyasagar College at Shankar Ghose Lane and went on a rampage, damaging college property. They also took down a statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a noted philosopher and a key figure of Bengal Renaissance, and set a couple of motorcycles on fire.
Contingents of Kolkata Police deployed for the roadshow swung into action and were seen chasing away the warring groups.
“There was an attempt by TMC hooligans to attack me. Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal chief minister) tried to provoke violence. But I am safe,” Shah said, adding that police remained a mute spectator during the clashes.
Speaking to News18, Vidyasagar College principal Gautam Kundu said, “I condemn this incident. How can someone enter a college and damage its property? This is alarming as I have never witnessed such an incident in recent years. Not only did they break the furniture but they also broke an antique statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. We will lodge a complaint with the police against the BJP attackers.”
“They ran away with a laptop and a handbag of a female college staff. It’s a shameful incident,” Kundu added.
Trouble started around 5.40 pm when Shah’s convoy entered College Street. Waving black flags, TMCP members had gathered in the area near Calcutta University. Raising slogans, they asked Shah to go back.
Meanwhile, ABVP activists standing across the road became agitated and forcibly removed the police barricade. They clashed with TMCP supporters and continued their rampage at nearby Vidyasagar College. Fifteen students were injured in the clash.
However, Shah said the violence was started by the cadres of the ruling party. “They tried to create problems before our roadshow and the police was a mute spectator. I would like to request my party workers to stay calm,” Shah told a private television channel.
The Bengal chief minister said she would not spare the BJP “goons”.
“Today, during the roadshow of Amit Shah, a section of BJP goons set Vidyasagar College on fire. They damaged the statue of Ishwar Vidaysagar Sagar. It’s a shameful incident, which never before happened in West Bengal,” she said.
Warning the BJP, Banerjee claimed retaliatory violence targeting the BJP’s offices would take no time. “I can reach you in Delhi also. I will not spare anyone who broke Vidyasagar’s statue and damaged college property,” she added.
Banerjee announced a protest rally on Thursday against the vandalisation of Vidyasagar’s bust.
TMC spokesperson Derek O’ Brien claimed that BJP had brought in “desperate goons” to smash Vidhayasagar’s bust. “Violent mob of BJP ‘outsiders’ in presence of Pukeworthy Shah. How little you know about Bengal, its rich history, its culture. Bengal will never forgive for what you did today. (sic),” he wrote in a tweet.
A police official confirmed they have taken suo moto cognizance of the incident and filed a case against the vandals.
Police Commissioner Rajesh Kumar said 100 people have been detained so far in connection with the incident. “Those who have broken the statue of Vidyasagar will not be spared. We will take action against all perpetrators,” he said.
Condemning the violence, Union minister Arun Jaitley asked if the state had “acquired a government of gangsters”.
“The attack on Amit Shah’s peaceful rally by the TMC is deplorable,” he said in a tweet. “Is a free and fair poll possible in Bengal? All eyes are now on the Election Commission.”
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and a delegation of BJP leaders later met officials of the Election Commission of India and urged them to ban Banerjee from campaigning.
BJP leader Nitin Gadkari also criticised the attack by “TMC supporters” on Shah’s roadshow.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the people of West Bengal would teach Banerjee a lesson. “Mamata Banerjee is unwell due to the growing support base of the BJP since the beginning of this election. Incidents of not giving permission to top BJP leaders to campaign in Bengal and killing of BJP workers symbolise that the state is stoking democracy. Today, our national president Amit Shah was also attacked,” he said.
Polling for the nine Lok Sabha seats in the state is scheduled to take place on May 19 — the seventh and last phase of the ongoing general elections.