Thousands of supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party clashed with police yesterday as they marched in Kolkata to protest against weeks of political violence that has claimed at least 12 lives.
The BJP and West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress have accused each other of instigating weeks of violence during and since recent national elections.
Police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse more than 20,000 BJP demonstrators as they attempted to march to police headquarters in Kolkata, the state capital.
The BJP supporters waved party flags and chanted slogans as they went through the cramped streets of the city.
Police used batons to clear protesters blocking an arterial road near their headquarters and arrested six women supporters trying to sneak into the building.
“We want an end to the Trinamool Congress misrule in West Bengal,” one shouted before being arrested.
The latest protest comes a day after police said three political activists had been killed since the weekend – including two BJP members whose bodies were found hanging from a tree.
A Trinamool member was killed in a bomb attack late Monday.
Both parities have accused each other of the violence.
The BJP claimed that 50 of their activists were arrested by police before being released. The party also accused the state administration of throttling their democratic protest.
“We were conducting the march peacefully but the police used water cannons on us and lobbed tear gas shells without any provocation. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is throttling the democratic space in Bengal. There is a complete breakdown of the law and order situation here,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said.
“Many of our leaders have taken ill due to tear gas shelling. As many as 50 party workers were arrested by the police, who were released later. We are ending our protest programme for the day, but our agitation against the Mamata Banerjee-led government would continue,” Ghosh added.
The police, however, said that only five BJP Mahila Morcha (women’s wing) members were arrested.
“We cannot provide the exact figure yet. However, five women BJP supporters have been arrested for demonstrating outside Lalbazar where Section 144 of the CrPC has been imposed,” Javed Shamim, joint commissioner of Kolkata Police, said.
The protesters started the rally from central Kolkata’s Subodh Mullick Square at around 1.30pm and broke a barricade in Ganesh Chandra Avenue, about 200m from the entry gate of Lalbazar. The police fired two water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Parts of Central Avenue resembled a war zone with Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel lobbying tear gas shells and resorting to minor baton charge to stop the protesters from re-organising the rally.
Several BJP leaders and activists sat on the street to demonstrate against the police action.
“We will continue our protest in a peaceful manner. The streets of Kolkata do not belong to Mamata Banerjee alone. She cannot throttle a democratic movement by using her police force,” state BJP leader Jay Prakash Majumdar said, adding the days of the state government were numbered.
“The police used brutal force to stop us from going to Lalbazar, but our workers acted in a disciplined and peaceful manner. I want to say that today the BJP has won, and the Trinamool has lost,” BJP leader Rahul Sinha said.
He said his party did not want President’s rule imposed on West Bengal but added that Banerjee’s “misrule” was pushing the state in that direction.
“We do not want President’s rule to be imposed on Bengal. That is not our intention. We want to oust Mamata Banerjee and her government from power. But Mamata’s misrule and atrocities by her government are pushing Bengal in that direction,” Sinha said.
“Murders are happening in the state every day. There is a complete breakdown of law and order situation here. Mamata is failing to run the government. If Article 356 is imposed here, then she would be solely responsible,” he said.
The BJP, which has traditionally held sway in the Hindi-speaking belt in the north, has been trying hard to pick up support in West Bengal.
In the elections that ended last month with a big national victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP increased its tally of seats in the state to 18 from just two at the last vote in 2014.
The party is now focusing on upcoming state elections, including one in West Bengal scheduled for 2021 when it hopes to unseat the government led by the firebrand Trinamool Congress chief.
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