Kolkata: BJP and TMC supporters Tuesday fought pitched battles on the streets of Kolkata during a massive roadshow by Amit Shah, who escaped unhurt but was forced to cut short the jamboree and had to be escorted to safety by police.
Parts of the city plunged into a welter of violence as his convoy was attacked with stones by alleged TMC supporters from inside the hostel of Vidyasagar College, triggering a clash between supporters of the two parties, officials said.
Furious BJP supporters retaliated and were seen exchanging blows with their TMC rivals outside the college entrance.
Several motorcycles parked outside were vandalised and set ablaze. Shards of broken glass littered the lobby of the college where a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a noted philosopher and a key figure of Bengal Renaissance, was smashed to smithreens. Police personnel were seen trying to douse the fire with buckets filled with water.
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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 told a Hindi TV news channel.
Shah said while clashes erupted police remained a mute spectator.
He said he was told by police that the permission for the roadshow ended near the college and that he will be taken to the ancestral home of Swami Vivekananda on Bidhan Sarani.
“They (police) deviated from the planned route and took a way where there were traffic jams. I was not allowed to reach Swami Vivekananda’s house to pay tributes and I am saddened by it,” Shah claimed.
Banerjee hit right back, calling Shah a “goonda”.
“If you lay your hands on Vidyasagar, what will I call you other than a goonda,” she told a rally in Behala in the city.
“I hate your ideology, I hate your ways,” she said, and announced a protest rally on Thursday against the vandalisation of the bust of Vidyasagar.
Gautam Kundu, principal of Vidyasagar college said, “The BJP supporters carrying party flags barged inside the office and started abusing us. They tore papers, ransacked the offices and union rooms and while leaving desecrated the bust of Vidyasagar. They locked the gates and set bikes and motorcycles on fire”.
A few students were injured by the BJP supporters, he said.
TMC secretary general and state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee visited the college after the violence.
Condemning the BJP, he said the attack by its supporters show that the saffron party has no respect for Bengal’s culture.
A police team led Deputy Commissioner Subhankar Sinha reached the spot and said an investigation has been started and culprits would be booked soon.
Earlier, there was a scuffle when a group shouted slogans against Shah outside the Calcutta University campus and showed him black flags. Police, however, swiftly brought the situation under control.
Before the clashing mobs took over the streets of central Kolkata, Shah led a saffron surge in parts of the city as chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram, Jai Jai Shri Ram’ alternated with frenzied chorus of ‘Modi! Modi!’.
Clad in a kurta-pyjama ensemble and a pink Modi jacket to boot, Shah smiled broadly from atop an open roof vehicle, waving at people and thrusting a clenched fist into air while a massive crowd followed him in the BJP’s show of strength five days before the final phase of general election.
A virtual carnival unfolded during his nearly 4-km roadshow from Esplanade to the ancestral home of Swami Vivekananda, a journey he could not complete.
Women in traditional Bengali white sarees with red borders, tribals donning the BJP’s trademark saffron turbans and carrying bows and arrows danced as the caravan inched through the cramped streets of West Bengal’s capital city.
With the state polarised along communal lines like never before during an election, the parade had men dressed like Ram, Hanuman and the ‘Vanar Sena’, the army of apes that helped the Lord defeat demon king Ravan, according to epic Ramayana.
BJP workers and supporters lined the streets, as did curious onlookers.
The party’s Kolkata north and Kolkata south candidates Rahul Sinha and Chandra Kumar Bose were on the vehicle with Shah, who had to often wipe his face with a towel in the oppressive heat and humidity the city is known for during summer.
Along the way, Shah and his entourage were showered with flower petals by women from terraces and rooftops. Shah also sprinkled the crowd with flower petals.
Apparently satisfied with the impressive turnout of BJP supporters on Kolkata streets, a rare sight since the defeat and virtual eclipse of the Left Front whose rallies were stuff of legend because of sheer size, Shah declared the BJP will win more than 282 seats in the election, the number of constituencies it had clinched in 2014.
“They (the TMC) killed several of our workers. Nothing can make a party president sadder. Didi (West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee) should know the more violence her party perpetrates the more the lotus (BJP’s election symbol) will bloom,” he told a national TV channel.
Shah claimed the people of West Bengal have made up their mind to back Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defeat the Trinamool Congress.
Responding to Banerjee’s allegation that the BJP had brought people from other states to rig the elections in West Bengal and that saffron party workers in CRPF uniforms were vitiating the poll process, Shah said his party was ruling 16 states and nowhere it adopted such vile tactics.
“I want to assure Didi as much…we will never do anything like that,” he said.
Tension was palpable since noon, hours before Shah’s roadshow began, after posters with images of Modi and him were dismantled by the police, provoking several senior leaders to stage a flash sit-in.
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, the party’s pointsman for the northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan remonstrated.
Vijayvargiya was seen involved in a heated argument with a police officer.
“No democracy exists in Bengal,” Pradhan said, adding the people of the state were with Narendra Modi.
“You (the TMC and Mamata Banerjee) are scared of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. But why should you be afraid of their posters?” Sarma said.
The police stopped Shah’s convoy on Vivekananda road, just few meters ahead of Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral house and told him to terminate the roadshow there as per the permission granted by the authorities, BJP state vice-president Jaiprakash Majumdar told PTI.