Hindustan Times, Kolkata

Siliguri: Police use tear gas shells and water cannon on BJP Yuva Morcha workers protesting against West Bengal govt at Tinbatti.(ANI)



A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker died and several others, including some policemen, were injured in pitched battles at Siliguri in north Bengal on Monday afternoon when senior national and state leaders of the party were leading a rally.

The police lobbed tear gas shells and used water cannons to stop BJP workers and leaders from moving towards Uttar Kanya, the state secretariat in north Bengal, violating prohibitory orders under Section 144 Code of Criminal Procedure. The police also used a pink dye in the water to mark the agitators. The government accused them of resorting to violence and arson.

The rally was part of the BJP’s ongoing agitation programmes against the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in the run-up to the assembly polls due early next year.

BJP’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, national secretary Arvind Menon, state president Dilip Ghosh and several Lok Sabha members took part in the rally. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) national president and Bangalore South Lok Sabha member Tejasvi Surya and state BJYM president Saumitra Khan fell ill after inhaling tear gas. The party said 40 workers, including six women, were injured.

To mark its protest, the BJP will observe a 12-hour bandh on Tuesday in the north Bengal districts where it won seven of the region’s eight Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

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BJP workers held agitations in Nadia, East Burdwan, Howrah, Kolkata and several other districts on Monday evening.

Senior party leaders also met governor Jagdeep Dhankhar in Kolkata and demanded a judicial probe into the death of Ulen Rai, 50, a BJP worker from Gajoldoba in Jalpaiguri district. He died at a private hospital shortly after sustaining an injury in the chest. There was confusion over the cause of his death. While some BJP leaders claimed that he was hit by police batons, others said he was shot with a pellet gun.

“Today in Siliguri, serious acts of violence were committed by the supporters of a political party during their protest program. They resorted to arson, brick-batting, firing and vandalism of govt property. Police showed restraint and didn’t do lathicharge or used firearms. Only water cannons and tear gas were used to disperse the violent crowd. However, death of a person has been reported. Body is being sent for PM (post mortem examination). The actual cause of death will be known only after the PM,” the West Bengal Police tweeted in the evening.

Governor Dhankhar reacted sharply to the tweet of the state police.

“Am stunned and shocked at this judgmental stance @WBPolice. With such a finding recorded and disseminated in public domain there can be no semblance of fair investigation @MamataOfficial ! Alarming scenario: Political neutrality being thrown to winds for political hatchet work,” the governor tweeted around 9 pm.

Earlier in the evening, he tweeted, “Political violence @MamataOfficial is a cause of alarming concern as it poses threat to democracy. Administration and police @WBPolice must desist from partisan stance and act in political neutral manner. Level playing field to opposition can’t be left to mercy of police.”

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BJP and BYJM workers, who were leading two processions from opposite directions, were spotted pelting stones at the police when they were stopped from moving towards Uttar Kanya.

The clashes took place in at least four places, including Tinbatti More and Phoolbari Bazar. Several women in the processions fell ill after inhaling the tear gas. “In no state will you see the government crushing a peaceful democratic movement in this manner. Constitutional experts need to take a note of this,” Surya said after the violence.

“Most of our leaders and party workers were stopped by the police at different locations so that we could not join the processions. Barricades were set up at 52 locations,” said state BJP general secretary Sayantan Basu who accompanied Dilip Ghosh.

“The incident was a public display of the violence the BJP believes in. Its workers provoked the police to open fire. I thank the police for handling the situation. The BJP will fail to create disturbance in the state,” said Saugata Roy, TMC Lok Sabha member and party spokesperson.

The BJYM workers vandalized two steel and bamboo barricades and a police outpost. They also set two bamboo barricades on fire. Journalists covering the rally were caught in the middle when BJYM workers showered stones at the Rapid Action Force of the district police.

“Every party has the right to carry out agitations. However, I cannot say what prompted the police to fire tear gas shells,” said state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury.

Tuesday’s violence was similar to the one witnessed in and around Kolkata on October 8 when as many as 24 BJP leaders, including Vijayvargiya and Menon, were booked by the Kolkata Police for violating Central guidelines on gatherings and political rallies during the Covid-19 pandemic and marching towards Nabanna, the secretariat in the adjoining Howrah district.

The BJYM organised the ‘Nabanna Chalo’ (march to Nabanna) programme to raise voice on issues ranging from alleged lack of employment opportunities in Bengal to law and order problems. BJP and BJYM leaders claimed that around 1,500 workers were injured during the baton charge.