Kolkata: The Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress supporters Tuesday fought pitched battles on the streets of Kolkata during a massive roadshow by Amit Shah, who escaped unhurt but was forced to cut short the jamboree and had to be escorted to safety by police.
Parts of the city plunged into a welter of violence as his convoy was attacked with stones by alleged TMC supporters from inside the hostel of Vidyasagar College, triggering a clash between supporters of the two parties, officials said.
Furious BJP supporters retaliated and were seen exchanging blows with their TMC rivals outside the college entrance.
Several motorcycles parked outside were vandalised and set ablaze. Shards of broken glass littered the lobby of the college where a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a noted philosopher and a key figure of Bengal Renaissance, was smashed to smithreens. Police personnel were seen trying to douse the fire with buckets filled with water.
Contingents of Kolkata Police deployed for the roadshow swung into action and were seen chasing away the warring groups. “There was an attempt by TMC hooligans to attack me. Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal chief minister) tried to provoke violence. But I am safe,” Shah told a Hindi TV news channel. Shah said while clashes erupted police remained a mute spectator. He said he was told by police that the permission for the roadshow ended near the college and that he will be taken to the ancestral home of Swami Vivekananda on Bidhan Sarani.
“They (police) deviated from the planned route and took a way where there were traffic jams. I was not allowed to reach Swami Vivekananda’s house to pay tributes and I am saddened by it,” Shah claimed.
Banerjee hit right back, calling Shah a “goonda”. “If you lay your hands on Vidyasagar, what will I call you other than a goonda,” she told a rally in Behala in the city. “I hate your ideology, I hate your ways,” she said, and announced a protest rally on Thursday against the vandalisation of the bust of Vidyasagar.
Gautam Kundu, principal of Vidyasagar College said, “The BJP supporters carrying party flags barged inside the office and started abusing us. They tore papers, ransacked the offices and union rooms and while leaving desecrated the bust of Vidyasagar. They locked the gates and set bikes and motorcycles on fire”. A few students were injured by the BJP supporters, he said. TMC secretary general and state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee visited the college after the violence. Condemning the BJP, he said the attack by its supporters show that the saffron party has no respect for Bengal’s culture.
A police team led Deputy Commissioner Subhankar Sinha reached the spot and said an investigation has been started and culprits would be booked soon.
Earlier, there was a scuffle when a group shouted slogans against Shah outside the Calcutta University campus and showed him black flags. Police, however, swiftly brought the situation under control.
Before the clashing mobs took over the streets of central Kolkata, Shah led a saffron surge in parts of the city as chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram, Jai Jai Shri Ram’ alternated with frenzied chorus of ‘Modi! Modi!’.
Clad in a kurta-pyjama ensemble and a pink Modi jacket to boot, Shah smiled broadly from atop an open roof vehicle, waving at people and thrusting a clenched fist into air while a massive crowd followed him in the BJP’s show of strength five days before the final phase of general election.