West Bengal under attack, says CM Mamata Banerjee on day of slugfest


KOLKATA: Even as emotion ran high over the desecration of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar’s bust, Wednesday was a day of political slugfest. The strongest sentiment came from chief minister Mamata Banerjee: “Bengal is under attack.”
The game of political one-upmanship comes just three days ahead of the last lap of the Lok Sabha elections. As many as nine seats in Kolkata and surrounding areas go to polls on Sunday.
BJP president Amit Shah pointed fingers at Trinamool supporters inside Vidyasagar College for smashing the icon’s bust. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee stressed on Bengali identity and pride, saying it was a criminal act by “outsiders” because people of Bengal held Vidyasagar in high esteem, so no Bengali would have done this. She even took out a protest rally on Wednesday, sticking to the route Shah had taken the day before.
Both leaders furnished photographs and video clips to support their claims. PM Narendra Modi also waded into the controversy. He said Banerjee had made good her threat to exact “inch-for-inch badla (revenge)”. “We saw it on the streets within 24 hours,” he said.
The mood on the streets was that of universal condemnation, and that of shock and sadness at the flagrant violence in the heart of the city. Opinion was divided over how this incident was going to impact voters, while voters wanted the EC to keep to its promise of “non-violent” polls in the last lap.
Shah, in a press meet at Delhi, said the gate of Vidyasagar College was closed as the BJP rally passed by. “The main gate of Vidyasagar College was intact. I want to ask who went inside and smashed the statue. If the main gate was not breached, how could BJP workers enter and break the statue? The door was locked and the keys were with the administration. Those inside threw kerosene bombs at us. My life was in danger. I am also frustrated — how could Trinamool supporters break the bust?” Shah said, demanding an independent probe. The state police however, claim that they have got substantive evidence that outsiders broke open the lock.
Banerjee said the state itself was under siege. “Bengal is under attack. If Bengal’s culture and civilisation is under attack, Bengal is also under attack. I wish to make it clear that they (the BJP) are telling lies to cover this up. This act was a conspiracy with a criminal and communal intent. If they were people from Bengal, they would have known how we respect Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. They would never have done this. It proves that outsiders came for the rally and created all this trouble,” she said, adding there was no need for an inquiry because the “video clips” show it all.
BJP leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath was not satisfied with the unverified “video clips” the CM showed. “The room hosting the Vidyasagar bust was under CCTV surveillance. Let the college authorities come up with the footage of that day,” he said.
Earlier in the day, a Trinamool Rajya Sabha delegation — comprising Derek O’Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Ray and Manish Gupta — moved the EC and presented presented two video clips of local BJP leader Rakesh Singh making tweets in a closed group called “lathalathi”, asking the group members to come with lathis at Shah’s Kolkata roadshow. There was a rumour that there could be trouble in front of Calcutta University. Since the EC had given permission, there should have been an EC observer to monitor the meeting, the delegates said. Later, state education minister Partha Chatterjee hurriedly called a press conference to show some video clips where men were seen climbing the gates of Vidyasagar College, and some with saffron headgear smashing the bust.
Police have so far arrested 58 people in this connection and lodged a suo motu FIR over the fracas at Vidyasagar College. Amherst Police confirmed it has received a complaint against Shah, but was yet to turn it into an FIR.

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