Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday launched a scathing attack on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee over poll violence, saying elections in Jammu and Kashmir were more peaceful than those in West Bengal.
PM Modi, in an exclusive interview with News18’s Amitabh Sinha and Brajesh Kumar Singh, said most worrisome was the fact that people who believe in democracy and were “neutral”, were maintaining silence over the violence in Bengal. “They are forgiving everything else in their hatred for me and this will only create problems for the country,” the Prime Minister said.
A war of words ensued between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress a day after violence and arson marred BJP president Amit Shah’s road show in Kolkata. While Trinamool Congress has sought a meeting with the Election Commission on the issue, a Bharatiya Janata Party delegation urged the poll panel to bar West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from campaigning in the state and alleged that “constitutional machinery” has collapsed there.
Modi, while equating the situation in Bengal with that in Jammu and Kashmir, said elections were more peaceful in the latter. “During the panchayat elections in Kashmir, violence was not reported from even one polling booth. But during the same time, several people were killed during panchayat polls in Bengal; the houses of those who won were burnt down and they were forced to flee to Jharkhand and other states. Their only fault was that they won polls.
“The BJP, Left and even the Congress raised the issue but those who consider themselves neutral maintained silence, thus emboldening such forces. Even the chopper of a BJP chief minister is not allowed to land in Bengal; neither are our rallies allowed in the state. This is because the government, especially Mamata Banerjee, is scared of neither the BJP, the Left nor the Congress.”
The Prime Minister’s statements came as the BJP and the TMC engaged in a blame-game over the desecration of a bust of Ishwarchand Vidya Sagar. A group had barged into Vidyasagar College at Shankar Ghose Lane on Tuesday and gone on a rampage, damaging college property. They also took down a statue of Vidyasagar, a noted philosopher and a key figure of Bengal Renaissance, and set a couple of motorcycles on fire.
Some said that the miscreants were supporters of ABVP, a student outfit affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). However, Shah rubbished the claims and said that TMC “goons” were behind the desecration of the statue.
BJP and TMC supporters fought pitched battles on the streets of Kolkata during a massive road show by Shah, who escaped unhurt but was forced to cut short the jamboree and had to be escorted to safety by police.
Trouble started around 5.40pm when Shah’s convoy entered College Street. Waving black flags, TMCP members had gathered in the area near Calcutta University. Raising slogans, they asked the BJP chief to go back.
Enraged over the protests, alleged ABVP activists standing across the road forcibly removed the police barricade. They clashed with TMCP (Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad) supporters and the rampage continued at nearby Vidyasagar College, injuring at least fifteen students.
TMC spokesperson Derek O’ Brien later claimed that BJP had brought in “desperate goons” to smash Vidyasagar’s bust, while Bengal CM announced a protest rally on Thursday against the vandalisation.
On the other hand, top leaders of the BJP accused Trinamool Congress for the clashes. While Home Minister Rajnath Singh held Banerjee “responsible”, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wondered if Bengal is being run by a “government of gangsters” and Union minister Mahesh Sharma said that Banerjee has turned the state of Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose into a zone of violence and hatred.
Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had rushed to the EC, seeking its immediate intervention to ensure free and fair polls in the state. On Wednesday, BJP leaders, including Harsh Vardhan, Jitendra Singh and Vijay Goel, staged a silent protest with placards saying: “Save Bengal, Save Democracy”.