As the cadre of BJP, led by its youth wing BJYM, came out for the first time in large numbers in Kolkata, even as the lockdown has not been completely lifted, it led to violent clashes at four spots in the capital of West Bengal and Howrah.
Cops, other than blocking the passage of the opposition karyakartas, were as usual seen playing on the side of the ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The policemen were seen in an unverified video hurling crude bombs at BJP activists in between tear gas shells from a rooftop.
The cops also dragged a Sikh activist of BJP by his turban and unfurled it to humiliate him.
The mêlée went on for at least four continuous hours.
From Hastings Road into central Kolkata, the Howrah Bridge, Howrah Maidan and Santragachhi (in District Howrah), the metropolis and its township also witnessed the drama of policemen spraying coloured water on the political rallies.
This was over and above the use of lathi-charge.
In certain pockets, those in the procession hurled bricks and crude bombs at the police force in Howrah’s Mallick Fatak. Cops claimed to have recovered a 9 mm revolver from a 42-year-old BJP worker.
This man, Balwinder Singh, had a licence for the firearm from the Jammu and Kashmir Police (valid in District Rajouri of that state only). Singh told interrogators that he “stayed in Bhatpara for business”.
Reacting to the allegation, BJP activists quipped, “Next they would say they have recovered a Rafale fighter jet from us!”
It was Balwinder Singh whom the police dragged by his turban and hair.
TMC politicians, citing the example of Singh, accused the BJP of bringing in outsiders to “destroy peace in the state”. “How can political workers carry revolvers to a ‘peaceful’ rally?” state urban development minister Firhad Hakim asked.
The TMC held a candlelight march later in the day to protest against the BJP’s “politics of violence”.
The policemen detained 113 BJP supporters — or they courted arrest voluntarily.
BJP national president JP Nadda accused cops of beating up “peaceful” protesters and even “hurling country-made bombs”.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had “conceded defeat before the battle”. “She fled from Nabanna because she is afraid of facing the people,” he added.
Chief Minister Banerjee, however, visited Nabanna (closed for sanitisation) last afternoon. She returned from Jhargram, spent a few minutes at the state secretariat and then went to Bhawani Bhavan.
Chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay and additional DGP (law and order) Gyanwant Singh worked out of Nabanna’s control room. State DGP Virendra and Kolkata Police commissioner Anuj Sharma monitored the situation from Bhawani Bhavan.
Bandyopadhyay praised the police for “showing restraint” despite provocation. Several men in uniform were injured — 27 in Kolkata, 24 in Howrah — and three had to be admitted to hospital.
West Bengal allowed “peaceful and democratic rallies… not against the rule of law”, Bandyopadhyay said.
The chief secretary emphasised that permission for the programme for 25,000 people were given at the four points on 7 October.
TMC and police vs BJP: The flashpoints
The TMC government had yesterday informed the BJP within two hours of their application that it would not be possible to allow them to go ahead with their rallies because of three reasons:
- the Supreme Court’s Shaheen Bagh order (protesters could not be allowed to indefinitely block public roads and places)
- Section 144 (prohibiting assembly of more than four persons) around Nabanna and
- the centre’s disaster management and lockdown provisions
BJP supporters, defying the orders, gathered at several places in Kolkata and the suburbs. They assembled in large groups in Kalighat in the vicinity of the chief minister’s house, central Kolkata, Howrah, Narendrapur (South 24 Parganas) and Dankuni (Hooghly), since the morning.
Four rallies in Howrah and Kolkata tried to head towards Nabanna, using Second Hooghly Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) and Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu).
BJP’s central leaders Arvind Menon and Kailash Vijayvargiya and state leaders Mukul Roy, Arjun Singh, Locket Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Datta led the rally on Hastings Road.
Police started cane-charging this rally at 12:45 PM, bursting six rounds of tear-gas shells. Local BJP leader Rakesh Singh took a blow on the head and was taken to hospital; Menon too had to get treatment for leg injuries.
Howrah Bridge was the second flashpoint. Bengal unit chief Ghosh led this procession, beginning from the state headquarters off Central Avenue and reached the first barricade on the approach to the bridge at 1:35 PM. BJP workers took seven minutes to break this barricade, prompting a pushback by the police. BJP’s North Kolkata president Sibaji Singha Ray was injured in the police attack.
Another rally converged at Howrah Maidan. TMC cadre and police challenged them at around 1 PM. BJP supporters tried to break a police barricade at Mallik Fatak. Police met them with tear gas and smoke grenades.
Some activists hurled crude bombs at the policemen on this spot and the cops hurled some of the bombs back at the gathering.
The cops recovered a revolver from activist Singh here. “Singh threatened us with his hand in his trousers’ hip pocket, prompting us to nab him and check what he had,” a police officer said, adding that he had been slapped with Arms Act cases.
Raju Bandyopadhyay, Sayantan Basu and Purulia MP Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato led the Santragachhi rally. Around 12:30 PM, the activists first attempted to break the barricade, prompting a police pushback.
The cops sprayed people in the rally with water laced with blue dye. BJP leader Bandyopadhyay was hurt in the clash. He was admitted to a private hospital off EM Bypass.
Traffic in central Kolkata, Howrah and the approaches to the city from Howrah and Hooghly took a major hit, with a semblance of normalcy returning only after 3 PM.