One clip shows a group of youths, some wearing saffron shirts and at least one sporting a saffron turban, vandalising a bust of cultural icon Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar outside the Vidyasagar College hostel. Another shows a separate group inside the campus hurling large stones across the wall at men wearing saffron shirts and turbans, carrying BJP flags.
These are among the two key video clips being investigated by Kolkata Police probing the clashes that took place between members of the TMC student wing, Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), and BJP workers during Tuesday’s roadshow by BJP chief Amit Shah in Kolkata.
While a blame game is on between the two sides over who started the violence, The Indian Express spoke to police officers, eyewitnesses and rival party workers to find that everyone knew the clashes would happen — before the roadshow started. The TMCP had planned demonstrations on the route and the BJP was prepared to prevent any “untoward incident”.
Police sources told The Indian Express that all the 58 people arrested for the violence were BJP supporters. However, while the TMC has blamed BJP workers from outside West Bengal, sources said most of those arrested hailed from other areas of the state, including Hooghly, Burdwan, North 24 Parganas and Titagarh.
“We have got the video footage from local residents and on social media. Outsiders barged in, ransacked the hostel premises and vandalised the bust,” said a senior police officer.
On Wednesday, at the Vidyasagar College hostel campus, S R Mohanty, the caretaker, said he was instructed to lock the gate at around 6.30 pm, about 15 minutes before the roadshow reached the spot.
“Around 50-60 people, who were part of the rally, started pushing at the gate, trying to open it forcefully. They were also throwing water bottles inside. I rushed to the upper floor while some students ran out of the gate at the back towards our women’s college. By the time police arrived, they had vandalised the furniture and bust of Vidyasagar,” said Mohanty.
A journalism student, who was about to leave the campus at the time, said she had to take shelter in the corridor of the second floor. “I heard them shout Jai Shri Ram every time they broke furniture. I ran with two of my friends upstairs and were later escorted out by fellow students after police dispersed the mob,” said the student, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The entire college was ransacked. They went to the upper floors, damaged computers and window glasses,” said Subham Mondal, TMCP member and vice-president of the college students union.
BJP leader Mukul Roy, however, said his party had “photos to prove who was behind the incident”. “The rally was scheduled and had received permission, so how were these people (TMCP) allowed to create obstructions? All of us respect Vidyasagar,” he said.
Saptarshi Sarkar, state secretary, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) demanded a “high-level investigation”. “Whoever is guilty of vandalising Vidyasagar’s bust should be punished. But the state government should take responsibility for the lack of proper police arrangements. It should now ensure that innocent people are not arrested and harassed,” he said.
BJP workers present in the area during the clash said stones were pelted at them while the roadshow passed. “They pelted stones at us from the roof of the hostel. Some of us were hit. Why should we barge into a hostel without any reason?” said a party worker who did not wish to be identified.
Arvind Singh, who owns a jewellery shop in the area, said the clash lasted for “at least half an hour”. “The BJP workers outnumbered the Trinamool supporters. But there were hardly any police. People threw stones from inside the campus and the BJP workers forcefully entered the campus and vandalised everything,” he said.
The Indian Express also accessed a videoclip from Monday in which a local BJP leader Rajesh Singh, who switched over from the Congress recently, is heard addressing a WhatsApp group: “Kal ka roadshow mein jhamela, jhanjhat ho sakta hai… Kal aapko jhamela kharidke bhi karna hai toh karna hai, magar aap logon ko aana hai… Aath foot ka danda leke, woh police aur TMC ka goonda se ladna hai hum logon ko (There could be trouble in tomorrow’s roadshow… You have to participate even if that means inviting trouble… With eight-feet sticks, we have to fight with police and TMC goons).”
Asked about the clip, Singh said: “I had got information that TMCP will try to disrupt the roadshow and show us black flags and shout slogans. We also got ground reports that they are preparing to provoke us. Therefore, we had to prepare ourselves. If someone tries to harm me and attack my leaders, will I stand by silently? Everyone has the right to self defence.”
Police said trouble first erupted 15 minutes earlier, near the University of Calcutta’s main gate, where a group of TMCP members staged a demonstration against Shah with placards and black flags. The rival sides were separated by police.
Police said the 58 persons arrested were produced in court in three cases lodged at three police stations. Ten persons have been remanded in police custody and the rest in judicial custody. About 56 others were detained as a preventive measure and later released, police said.
The accused have been charged mainly under IPC sections 148-149 (unlawful assembly), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from duty), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons) and under sections of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.