BFF-36 Kolkata clashes spark Indian election row

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INDIA-POLITICS-ELECTION-UNREST LEAD

Kolkata clashes spark Indian election row

KOLKATA, May 15, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Clashes between followers of Prime
Minister Narendra Modi and a firebrand opposition leader heightened tensions
in the key Indian city of Kolkata on Wednesday ahead of the final round of
the country’s hard-fought national election.

More than a hundred people were arrested after street battles that forced
Amit Shah, president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to leave an
election rally in the eastern metropolis under armed guard, police said.

A bust of renowned Bengal reformer, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, was
destroyed and a college named after him ransacked in the troubles late
Tuesday, which the BJP and rival Trinamool Congress (TMC) angrily blamed on
each other.

Teachers and students of Vidyasagar college wearing black badges staged a
day-long protest Wednesday, demanding an impartial investigation into the
incident.

“I could not recognize the office when I stepped in today,” Gautam Kundu,
the college principal, told AFP. “Broken shards of glass lay all over and a
statue of Vidyasagar was missing from the glass case.

“They (the teachers) were cowering in fear inside the classrooms when
the attack took place. We are shocked,” he said.

Security was stepped up outside the college as well as at Calcutta
University where students demonstrated with placards reading “Go Back
Narendra Modi”, “Go Back BJP”.

West Bengal state has been hit by repeated violence between the two
parties during the six-week-long election that ends Sunday. Results will be
announced on May 23.

Modi’s BJP hopes to capture many of the state’s 42 parliament seats from
the TMC to compensate for losses predicted in other regions.

The BJP accused West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee of
orchestrating attacks on Shah’s roadshow. Government ministers joined a
protest in Delhi which blamed Banerjee’s party.

– Activist freed –

“Has Bengal acquired a government of gangsters? The attack on Amit Shah’s
peaceful rally by TMC is deplorable,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on
Twitter.

Modi condemned what he called “TMC goons” for launching the street
battles, in a television interview.

Banerjee hit back by accusing Shah acting like a “god” who does not allow
protests.

She led a rally of several thousand supporters through the city late
Wednesday. The communist party held its own rally.

Trouble erupted when Shah’s convoy drove past the entrance to Calcutta
University, where TMC student wing activists had gathered.

“TMC supporters started throwing stones at the tail-end of the rally. A
group of people then set two motorbikes and a bicycle on fire,” said witness
Partha Sinha.

Political observers say the aggressive campaign by Modi’s party against
the TMC in the eastern state has made it one of the most bitter contests in
the election.

Modi won a landslide victory in 2014 but many pollsters expect him to
lose his overall majority this time. A good performance in West Bengal would
significantly improve his chances of a second term.

The BJP and Banerjee’s party have also been at loggerheads over a BJP
activist arrested for posting a doctored image on Facebook with Banerjee’s
head on the body of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra wearing a revealing dress.

Priyanka Sharma was arrested last week for posting the viral meme that
sparked national headlines.

She was released on Wednesday after the Supreme Court intervened.

But Sharma told journalists after her release: “All I did was post a meme
and I was jailed for 5 days. I am not sorry.”

BSS/AFP/ARS/2025 hrs