Cops, protesters hurt in clashes at Bengal rally
The clashes took place mainly at Santragachhi in Howrah and Mahatma Gandhi Road, Burrabazar and Brabourne Road in Kolkata.
Parts of Kolkata and its outskirts resembled a battlefield on Tuesday as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers fought pitched street battles with the police after the party’s procession was blocked by state authorities, sparking violent clashes and a political war of words.
The BJP’s Nabanna Chalo (March to Nabanna) agitation to the state secretariat on the outskirts of Kolkata was aimed at protesting corruption and law and order problems in the state. But as soon as the march began from at 1pm from three locations in Kolkata and Howrah, state police stopped them, citing prohibitory orders in the city. Over the next four hours, chaos descended on large parts of the Bengal capital and its sister city, Howrah, as police used batons, water cannons, tear gas shells and stun grenades at several locations to disperse BJP workers who were found pelting stones and glass bottles.
By evening, 27 policemen were injured and five BJP leaders were arrested, including top leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Sukanta Majumdar. A police vehicle was set on fire on Mahatma Gandhi Road in central Kolkata but the BJP denied any responsibility.
“Everyone got to see how the partisan police tried scuttling a leader of opposition’s democratic right to protest outside Nabanna. I was manhandled by a woman constable, people saw that too,” Adhikari told reporters before being whisked away in a prison van.
He later claimed that 250 party workers were injured, including senior leaders Meena Devi Purohit. In the afternoon, the Calcutta high court asked for a report from the state government on the incident.
The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) accused the BJP of trying to destabilise the state. “Destroying and damaging government property, attacking police personnel, causing chaos and disrupting peace across the state — today’s activities of BJP that brought shame upon the entire nation. We strongly condemn such outrageous behaviour,” the party tweeted.
The clashes took place mainly at Santragachhi in Howrah and Mahatma Gandhi Road, Burrabazar and Brabourne Road in Kolkata. The violence marks yet another face-off between the BJP and the TMC in a state that saw a fiercely fought assembly election last year that the latter won.
In August, the BJP announced its programme of marching to Nabanna, its second in two years. Mobilisation began early even as the police set up barricades across the city and clamped prohibitory orders.
At 1pm, three groups of the BJP workers started marching to the state secretariat — one led by Adhikari and Locket Chatterjee from Kolkata, a second led by Ghosh from Howrah and a third by Majumdar and Jagannath Chatterjee, also from Howrah. But within minutes, all three processions found their road blocked by the police and barricades, leading to clashes.
At Santragachhi in Howrah district, police were pelted with stones as they chased away protesters. A police kiosk was damaged after demonstrators were stopped, leading to street clashes that lasted till the early evening. Visuals showed people throwing stones at policemen standing outside the railway station and police reinforcements sent to quell the situation. Similar scenes were witnessed in Howrah town, Kolkata’s Lalbazar and MG Road areas, bringing large parts of the two cities to a standstill and creating hours-long traffic snarls. Police used water cannons near Howrah bridge, Howrah Maidan area and Santragachhi.
As political temperatures rose, a BJP worker approached the Calcutta high court. A division bench of chief justice Prakash Shrivastava and justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj ruled the government had to ensure that no unnecessary arrest was made and no person unnecessarily detained.
“The State authorities will ensure protection of party office of the political party which had organised the rally,” said the court order, asking the state home secretary to file a report by September 19.
BJP leaders said 100,000 people joined the protest but chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was on a three-day tour of East and West Midnapore districts, told party leaders at a meeting that “it turned into a deflated balloon because of low attendance”, TMC office bearers said, quoting her.
BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya accused the state government of trying to stop workers by preventing them from boarding trains to Kolkata. “Had it been a flop show, the administration would not have deployed 10,000 policemen, rapid action force and commandos. The TMC tried every trick,” he said.
Adhikari — who was arrested alongside Majumdar, former state unit chief Rahul Sinha and parliamentarian Locket Chatterjee — alleged that more than 250 party workers were injured. “At least 50 of them have been admitted to hospital. Even our septuagenarian leader Meena Devi Purohit was assaulted by the police. She suffered head injury. We will sue the Indian Police Service (IPS) officers who were on duty today. We were released on personal bond after our legal cell members moved the Calcutta high court,” Adhikari said after he was released around 6pm.
He also alleged that women police personnel were sent to arrest him in violation of rules. Bhattacharya said the leader of the opposition in the assembly had been insulted. “Don’t touch me. You are a lady and I am a male,” Adhikari could be heard telling the women police personnel several times before Akash Magharia, deputy commissioner of Kolkata south division, took him away.
While in police custody, Adhikari went live on Facebook and said, “We will put these officers behind bars. Abhishek Banerjee (TMC national general secretary) will be arrested too.”
TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh hit back.
“He is an incompetent leader who only makes noises and delivers nothing. He was so scared that he got himself arrested even before the agitation started,” said Ghosh.
BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said the state government was running “jungle raj”. The leader faced some internal criticism for abruptly calling off the agitation in the afternoon. “Three processions were approaching Nabanna from different directions. The procession I was leading had to be stopped because the police used force. They even set up steel barricades to block the path of peaceful protestors,” he said.
Majumdar staged a sit-in in Howrah after being stopped.”This autocratic Mamata Banerjee government does not believe in giving space to opposition parties,” he said.