HC steps in after clashes erupt between BJP & police in Kolkata

SEVERAL BJP workers and police personnel were injured, and a police vehicle set on fire, in a face-off in Kolkata on Tuesday as a protest march by the main Opposition party in West Bengal against the ruling TMC turned violent in various parts of the city, prompting the Calcutta High Court to step in.

Following the clashes, the High Court asked the state’s Home Secretary to submit a report by September 19 on allegations that BJP supporters were prevented from attending the march to the State Secretariat in Howrah, as part of the party’s “Nabanna Abhiyan”. The court also ordered the state to ensure that no unnecessary arrest or detention is made in connection with the rally.

The National Commission for Women, meanwhile, sought an explanation within seven days from the Kolkata Police Commissioner over a video posted on Twitter purportedly of  “Meena Devi Purohit, senior BJP leader, brutally assaulted by men police officers”. It sought action against the officers.

Security personnel disperse BJP supporters near Howrah Bridge in Kolkata. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya told reporters that 363 of the party’s workers were injured during the clashes, and 35 workers and leaders have been hospitalised. “The condition of three of them are critical,” he said.

Kolkata Joint CP (Crime), Murlidhar Sharma, said “90 people were arrested” in connection with the violence, and that 27 policemen, including two officers, were injured. “We are examining CCTV footage and identifying those who set the police vehicle on fire. Those involved will be arrested soon,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the police set up barricades to prevent at least three protest rallies from reaching the Secretariat. This led to protesters pelting stones and throwing glass bottles, and vandalising a police kiosk. The police then resorted to tear gas, water cannons and a lathi charge to control the crowd of several hundreds, officials said.

Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, told reporters that “at least 1.5 lakh BJP workers were stopped by the police despite this being a programme that was announced earlier”.

BJP supporters pelt stones during the party’s march near Howrah Bridge, Tuesday. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

Adhikari and other BJP leaders, including Lok Sabha MP Locket Chatterjee and former state unit chief Rahul Sinha, were detained by the police around 12.30 pm near the second Hooghly bridge after an altercation, and arrested later. “They can’t stop a leader of the opposition like this,” Adhikari said. The BJP’s current state chief Sukanto Majumder was arrested later.

The TMC accused BJP workers of engaging in “hooliganism” and said that it strongly condemns “such outrageous behaviour”.

The “Nabanna Abhiyan” is the first major campaign by the BJP to revitalise its cadre after the party’s decisive defeat in the state elections last year. The protest is aimed at what the party calls “rampant corruption” by the TMC, and aims to capitalise on the recent action against top TMC leaders by Central investigative agencies.

The BJP push gathered pace after TMC Minister Partha Chatterjee was removed from all government and party posts in July after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said it had recovered over Rs 40 crore in cash from premises allegedly linked to him and his aide.

On Tuesday, eyewitnesses said the area near the Santragachi railway station in Howrah, Howrah Maidan, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Rabindra Sarani and localities leading to the police headquarters in Lalbazar “resembled war zones”.

Taking to Facebook Live from the Kolkata police headquarters in Lalbazar, Adhikari said, “Myself, Locket Chatterjee and Rahul Sinha were picked up like petty criminals. Police personnel, including lady police personnel, pushed and manhandled us… Arresting us will not stop our march… We will topple this state government by 2024.”

Speaking to reporters, TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh took a dig at the BJP. “The BJP doesn’t have a strategy. They do not have workers. The crowd you see is of police and media. Why didn’t Suvendu Adhikari sit on a dharna where he was stopped? He chose to quietly get in the police van,” he said.

The police barricades on the route from Santragachi to the State Secretariat triggered some of the most violent clashes. A Howrah City police kiosk was ransacked by protesters, who moved to the service roads and the land near the Santragachi railway station while continuing to pelt stones.

The impasse continued for six hours until additional police force was deployed and the situation brought under control by evening.

Meanwhile, two more rallies — one from Howrah Maidan led by Sukanto Majumder and another from College Street led by BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh — were blocked by police barricades, leading to clashes.

In Howrah, as well as on Mahatma Gandhi Road, workers clashed with police who wielded batons, lobbed tear gas shells and used water cannons to control the situation. Another group of BJP workers rallied in front of Lalbazar where the police resorted to a lathi-charge.

“The police are even targeting senior citizens in our rally. They are beating up our workers. Many are injured,” said Majumder before his arrest. “We have been peaceful. Police lathi-charged, used water cannons and lobbed tear gas shells. They also pelted stones at us. We are not here for fighting,” Ghosh said.

Another clash broke out later when BJP workers returning from Mahatma Gandhi road allegedly pelted stones at the police, leading to a lathi-charge. BJP workers said senior party leader and former Deputy Mayor Meena Devi Purohit was injured in the police action. It was at this juncture that the protesters set fire to a police vehicle, eyewitnesses said.

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Taking to Twitter, the TMC said, “Destroying & 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 BJP posted an image, purportedly of one of its workers getting hit by the police, on Twitter and described the forces as TMC’s “slaves”. “Do they have the guts to slap corrupt Trinamool Congress leaders like this? The police is now the cadre of the corrupt political party,” the BJP posted.

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