A BJP worker was killed and several injured after violence and arson erupted in north Bengal’s Siliguri on Monday during the BJP’s Uttarkanya Abhiyan, a protest march to the state’s branch secretariat.
Ulen Rai, a 50-year-old BJP worker from Jalpaiguri district, died in hospital after sustaining an injury in the chest. While the BJP claimed he was hit by police batons, others said he was injured by pellets fired by the law enforcers.
The rally was part of the party’s ongoing agitations against the Trinamul Congress government in the run up to next year’s Assembly elections.
Only two months ago the BJP’s Nabanna Abhijan (march to storm state secretariat Nabanna in Kolkata) had resulted in a similar mayhem.
Following Monday’s incident, the party announced a 12-hour general strike across north Bengal. Kailash Vijayvargiya, a national general secretary and Bengal minder of the party, said: “Our workers will wear black badges and host candlelight marches across the state.”
Apart from Vijayvargiya, the rally was attended by BJP national secretary Arvind Menon, state president Dilip Ghosh and several Lok Sabha members. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) national president and Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya and state BJYM president Saumitra Khan also participated in it.
The police lobbed tear gas shells and used water cannons to stop the party workers and leaders from moving towards the secretariat, violating prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC. Reportedly, the police used a pink dye in the water to mark the agitators.
Surya and Khan fell ill after inhaling the tear gas. The BJP said around 40 party workers, including six women, were injured in the rally.
Surya said: “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.”
However, Trinamul leader and state minister Gautam Deb accused the BJP of “planned vandalism”.
Trinamul Lok Sabha MP Saugata Roy, opposing the BJP’s claims, said: “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.”
The police also tweeted saying they acted with restraint.
“Today in Siliguri, serious acts of violence were committed by supporters of a political party during their protest programme. They resorted to arson, brick-batting, firing and vandalism of government property. Police showed restraint and didn’t do lathi charge or used firearms. Only water cannons and teargas were used to disperse the violent crowd. However, death of a person has been reported. Body is being sent for PM (post-mortem). The actual cause of death will be known only after the PM,” the tweet read.
Later, senior BJP leaders met governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and demanded a judicial probe into Rai’s death.
Dhankhar reacted sharply to the West Bengal Police tweet. Claiming it was a peaceful protest being held by the BJP workers, he tweeted: “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.”
Things have been heating up in Bengal in the run up to next year’s Assembly polls. The BJP has fixed its eyes on the elusive state after emerging as the dominant partner in the NDA government in Bihar.
The party is leaving nothing to chance and is being spearheaded by home minister Amit Shah in the battle to breach Mamata Banerjee’s impregnable Bengal fortress.