Central Kolkata was under siege on Wednesday. It became the epicentre of a pitched battle between the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, both of whom launched rally and counter-rally against each other. It was not just BJP versus TMC but also Centre versus state.
The trouble had started on Tuesday evening, after Sudip Bandyopadhyay, a member of Parliament from the Trinamool Congress, was arrested for his alleged involvement in the Rose Valley chit fund scam. While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called this a state of Emergency, members of the TMC youth wing allegedly descended on the BJP headquarters in Kolkata, hurling stones and injuring party workers. Central Reserve Police Force personnel were moved in to protect BJP leaders holed up in the building.
The arrival of central forces set the stage for fresh recriminations. Twin delegations made their way to Raj Bhavan on Wednesday afternoon. West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee complained of a political vendetta against the Trinamool Congress, which has opposed Narendra Modi’s policy of demonetisation, and objected to Central forces being sent in without the state government being consulted.
“I did not want Central forces,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh told journalists outside Raj Bhavan. “But bricks and stones were falling on us and we did not have enough police cover. The forces were sent to provide security for Rahul Sinha”, the BJP national secretary.
The party demanded President’s rule in the state, citing “brutal attacks” on BJP leaders and general lawlessness.
‘Hai, hai Modi’
The Trinamool Congress was not backing down. “Hai, hai Modi,” chanted party workers at a rally in central Kolkata. This was followed up with cries of “Vande Mataram” and “Gali, gali mein shor hai, Narendra Modi chor hai” – The cry on the streets in that Narendra Modi is a thief. To illustrate the point, an effigy of Narendra Modi was held up at the front of the procession.
Local Trinamool Congress leaders said they were there to protest against the schemes of the “markazi hukumat [Central government]” and the “zulm [oppression]” of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Anyone who opposed the BJP government, they said, was branded anti-national or corrupt. Some supporters wore placards which said, “Why was Sudip Bandyopadhyay arrested, BJP you must answer.”
The protest against demonetisation was elevated to a “tehreek [movement]” launched by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who “knows the people’s voice”. “Janta hamaare saath hai,” cried TMC leaders. The people are with us.
Bystanders gazed dispassionately on the rally, chomping on chow mein as it passed through Meredith Street and Nizam’s rolls as it wound its way towards SN Banerjee Road. These densely populated quarters of Kolkata are lined with shops, offices and food stalls. Most shopkeepers simply continued with business while harried office-goers tried to reach work as the processions held up traffic on arterial roads.
BJP behind the barricades
Meanwhile, Muralidhar Sen Lane, where the BJP headquarters are located, was barricaded at both ends. By Wednesday evening, the Central forces had left but the state police guarded both ends of the narrow alley and party workers at the office were watchful.
“The Delhi party is determined that the process started by the CBI will continue,” state president Dilip Ghosh told journalists in the evening.
The conversation also revolved around security. Ghosh, taking questions from journalists, said the police stood by as the BJP office was attacked. “The police just filed an FIR, with no names, nothing,” he alleged. “Everyone is worried about this frightening situation. Other parties and ordinary people are shocked.”
Party supporters counselled Ghosh to seek security cover from Central, rather than state, forces. The state president was non-committal, saying the governor had sent his report on the situation to the Centre. As for the way ahead, Ghosh said they would continue to protest politically. “We have already gheraoed roads today and our party workers will do what they can to secure the office,” he said.
In the districts
The political battle radiated outwards as rallies were held across the city and both parties asked workers mobilised workers in the districts.
Late on Tuesday night, the house of BJP general secretary Krishna Bhattacharya was allegedly attacked by TMC mobs in Uttarpara in Hooghly district. Bhattacharya, now reportedly recuperating at a hospital, claimed that her house was set upon by three masked men, who hurled bombs at her. BJP MP Babul Supriyo also claimed that his parents’ house in Kolkata was vandalised. A BJP office in Chinsurah, Hooghly, was also set on fire.
While Bengal is in turmoil, all eyes are on Delhi for further developments. On Wednesday, Trinamool MPs were huddled in meetings at the capital. Now, senior state leaders of the BJP are also bound for meetings in Delhi.