Pitched battles were fought in parts of Kolkata and neighbouring Howrah on Thursday afternoon as BJP workers clashed with police after they were stopped from marching to the state secretariat, Nabanna, to protest against the “worsening” law and order situation in the wake of the recent killings of BJP workers.
The “March to Nabanna”, organised by the BJP’s youth wing — Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) — turned violent at several places as party workers hurled stones and bricks at policemen and set fire to tyres. There were also reports of crude bombs being hurled at policemen, which the BJP denied. Police used water cannons, fired tear gas shells and resorted to lathicharge to disperse the protesters. See more photos here.
Several BJP workers and leaders, including party’s national secretary Arvind Menon and state BJP vice-president Raju Banerjee, were injured in the clash and admitted to hospitals.
Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said 113 BJP workers were arrested from several parts of Kolkata and Howrah, and added that arms were also recovered from them. The government also said that BJP protesters lobbed crude bombs at policemen and a BJP worker was arrested with a loaded pistol from Howrah Maidan. Read in Bangla here
Several police and RAF personnel were also injured in the clashes, but it was not clear how many. Sources in the police said they have lodged a case against unidentified protesters after a sub-inspector of Girish Park Police Station was injured in the clash.
The BJP, on the other hand, claimed that over 1,000 of its party workers received injuries and over 500 of them were detained during the protests that lasted for over two hours.
“There was provocation (from BJP workers) and we have got proof of their violent acts. Arms have been recovered. There were attacks on policemen and several of them have been injured. The police have handled the situation with patience and showed resistance. We are committed to protecting the democratic space. However, we handled the situation with an iron fist. About 89 protesters have been detained from Kolkata and 24 have been from Howrah. This is a preliminary report. Further updates will be shared later,” the Chief Secretary said.
The BJP, however, accused the police of triggering the violence. “We were holding a peaceful march but the police action turned it into a violent protest. The police and goons from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) attacked us. It’s all happening because of the dictatorial attitude of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee,” said Kailash Vijayvargiya, the in-charge of BJP’s West Bengal unit, who led the protest march in Hastings area of Kolkata.
Denying the charge of inciting violence and hurling crude bombs, the BJP said that the pistol recovered by the police belonged to a personal security guard of one of its leaders.
“It is a licensed gun of the personal security guard of our party’s Yuva Morcha state committee member. Police must return the gun. Bombs were hurled from the terrace of the building on our workers. Our workers did not hurl bombs. We were holding a peaceful protest. The police used force on us without any provocation,” said state BJP chief Ghosh, who led the protest march in Burrabazar area of Kolkata where violence was reported.
Police said the man who was arrested with a loaded gun in Howrah Maidan has been identified as Balwinder Singh a resident of Bhatinda.
After the BJP announced its protest march to lay siege of the state secretariat with a seven-point charter of demands that included job creation, ending political violence among others, the government denied permission for a big gathering, citing the Covid pandemic, and allowed “peaceful and democratic rallies of only 100 people”.
With the BJP making it clear that they would go ahead with their scheduled march from four areas in Kolkata and Howrah, over 5,000 police and RAF personnel, many in riots gear, were deployed at the entry points to the state secretariat on Wednesday morning.
Both the Howrah Bridge and Vidyasagar Setu were closed for traffic and the city came to a complete standstill. The government also announced that Nabanna will be shut for two days, from October 8, “for sanitisation purpose”.
Police had put up barricades at Hastings, Central Avenue, Santragachi and Howrah Maidan areas to prevent the BJP workers from heading to Nabanna.
Several BJP leaders, including Kailash Vijayvargiya, Arjun Singh, Locket Chatterjee, Mukul Roy and newly appointed BJYM president Tejasvi Surya joined the protest march at the four different locations.
While Kailash Vijayvargiya and Locket Chatterjee marched from Hastings, Surya led the protest at Howrah Maidan and state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh at Burrabazar.
After being stopped by the police, BJP workers tried to break barricades and pelted stones at policemen who in return fired tear gas shells and used water cannons. A blue coloured liquid was used in water cannons in Santragachi area. Similar scenes unfolded at Howrah Maidan, Hastings and Burrabazar.
The TMC slammed the BJP for the violence. “BJP is not a political party. It is a party of terrorists. They unleashed violence in Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and now wants to disturb the peaceful atmosphere in Bengal. I will tell the police to take the necessary steps against these terrorists. In a political programme, workers shout slogans and carry party flags. Bombs and bullets do not feature in a political protest march,” senior TMC leader and minister Firhad Hakim said.
Hitting back, Dilip Ghosh said, “TMC is scared of us. They have lost the moral authority to rule the state. They are misleading the people of the state with false information. Their time is running out.”
Later in the day as the protests wound up, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Nabanna on her return from Jhargram where she had gone for an administrative review meeting.
She held a meeting with DGP Virendra at Bhawani Bhawan, the CID headquarters. Sources said that the Chief Minister examined the video footages of the protest and directed the police to act accordingly.
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