Former Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta was among the BJP leaders who received injuries as partymen clashed with police in an effort to organise protest marches in Kolkata on September 13. He speaks to The Indian Express on police action during the protest, the prospects of the BJP in the state, and why corruption will be an issue in the coming polls. Excerpts:
This was a planned demonstration. Notice was given two weeks ago. Mobilisation was done in all districts. So, it was a public as well as a political programme. It was also planned that there will be three marches. One from Santragachhi, one from Howrah and one from Kolkata. So, everything in this programme was transparent. The role of police is obviously to protect Nabanna, the headquarters of the state government. But it is also to regulate the march, the demonstration of a political party. If, instead of doing these things, your (police’s) main purpose was to suppress a demonstration, prevent the demonstration from taking place, put obstacles in people’s path, then what happened was inevitable.
I believe the intention of the Mamata Banerjee government was to not allow the demonstration of the main opposition party but to prevent it from actually mobilising and showing its strength. So, what should have been a normal, peaceful affair saw violence, with workers getting injured, needless tear gassing, use of water cannons, and people being stopped from travel by railway, bus and other means. This was a suppression of democratic dissent.
You have also said you received injuries.
I was part of the march from College Square to the Old Howrah Bridge. Police put up barricades before the bridge, which is understandable. As soon as the demonstrators approached the barricades, they used water cannons, followed up by firing of teargas shells, when there was no need to do so. Immediately after, they started a lathicharge, not just to push the people back, but to disperse the entire demonstration altogether.
I was somewhere at the back, not in the front of the demonstration, talking, when suddenly people started rushing back and I got caught in that. So it was a mixture of people trying to go back, the charging policemen with their shields and their batons, and some construction material in the area. I was fortunate that some people actually shielded me and prevented anything worse from happening, but I suffered injuries on my back and feet.
This was needless. Why should a person who is coming to a demonstration be subjected to needless police assaults?
BJP workers were seen beating up policemen, throwing stones, setting fire to a police vehicle.
There were incidents of violence in Santragachhi where, as I said, there was police overreaction. They put up barricades on the National Highway, arrested leaders before they even reached the venue site. So, the idea was to not allow people to demonstrate, to somehow prove the might of the state to the demonstrators. And in this, as I said, what could have been a peaceful, noisy, high-spirited demonstration but not a violent demonstration (became that).
They deliberately turned it into a violent thing. Needless lathicharging, as a result of which some demonstrators started pelting stones from railway tracks, as I realised subsequently…
What happened at Lalbazar, the setting of a car on fire, was a very mysterious affair. There should be a probe because all the video footage suggests that BJP workers were not the ones responsible for it. Some forensic examination should be done.
Since the Assembly polls, the BJP has been doing badly in Bengal. Do you think such rallies will help build the morale of party workers?
There are two purposes of any political mobilisation. One is you are directing it at your own workers to raise their morale, to make sure that they push forward with their activities, their political mobilisation and they spread the message to the people. There is evidence of corruption, which is a major issue in Bengal, and an opposition party is completely justified in raising it.
That is one aspect of it. The other is that the ruling Trinamool Congress is doing its own political mobilisation constantly and on an ongoing basis. They have every right to do so, but when the BJP tries to do the same, why is the entire might of the state brought upon it?
Mamata Banerjee can fight us politically. She has every right to do so, that is how our democracy functions. But, instead of fighting us democratically and through the use of politics, she is using the police. So, now the police have become the main support base of Mamata Banerjee. And this is what is happening in West Bengal.
The panchayat polls are round the corner and then there will be the Lok Sabha elections. How prepared is the BJP’s organisation in the state?
Obviously, we do not have the same resources as the ruling party, which controls almost everything. They want to control every single institution in the state. Whether it is the political, administrative, cultural or civil society, they want to have total grip on everything. Compared to that… yes, we lack the necessary resources, necessary organisational clout. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. We will do our utmost. It is our job as a political party, as an opposition party to raise issues, to offer an alternative to the people. This is sanctioned to us by the Constitution, and we will continue to do so, even if we are not successful the first time. We were not successful in the Assembly elections, but that doesn’t mean we give up. We are not here to destruct, we are here to propagate politics.
That will be tested, but I believe corruption has changed the complexion of politics in West Bengal. Never before has corruption of this magnitude (been seen), where Rs 20 crore is found under someone’s bed, Rs 50 crore is found in the rooms of the Education Minister’s aide… This is the sort of money in circulation… West Bengal is a state which is supposed to be poor, and obviously some people are not very poor. This is what is very clear and it is our duty to raise it. To raise the question of an alternative. So that we can give a meaningful, transparent government of integrity. This is what we need to do and this is what politics is based on. Whatever the obstacles, we will continue to do this.
The TMC should be on the back foot over the corruption issue. What is happening is shameful. It is a government that is playing with people’s lives, people’s jobs, people’s education… every aspect of society… They are playing havoc with the country’s natural resources, coal… they are disrupting international trade, creating a parallel economy. These are very, very serious issues and we have to fight against that. And whatever the obstacles, we will continue doing our thing because we believe we are morally on the right path.