Pitched battles marked the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rally at Siliguri in north Bengal on Monday afternoon when police lobbed tear gas shells and used water cannons to stop the party workers and leaders from approaching towards Uttar Kanya, the state secretariat in north Bengal, violating prohibitory orders under Section 144 Code of Criminal Procedure.
The rally was part of the BJP’s ongoing agitation programmes against the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government.
BJP and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BYJM) workers, who were leading two processions from opposite directions, pelted stones at the police indiscriminately.
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. BJYM national president and Bangalore South Lok Sabha member Tejasvi Surya and state BJYM president Saumitra Khan also fell ill.
“The violence 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.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh alleged that a party worker died.
“One of our workers, who was injured in the baton charge, died in hospital,” said Ghosh.
Neither the police nor local TMC leaders confirmed this till 3.15pm.
Prominent leaders such as BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, national secretary Arvind Menon, and several Lok Sabha members of the party were in the long procession that was moving towards the secretariat.
The BJYM workers demolished two steel and bamboo barricades that were put up by the police to stop the procession. The angry BJYM workers set several 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. The police resorted to baton charge around 2.30pm.
The 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 pandemic and marching towards Nabanna, the secretariat in 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.