The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ‘Nabanna Abhijan’ (March to Nabanna – the West Bengal State Secretariat) on October 8 resulted in a violent showdown between workers of the saffron party and the police, and virtually paralysed life in parts of Kolkata and Howrah. Clearly aimed at demonstrating its strength ahead of the Assembly election in West Bengal, scheduled in 2021, the BJP Yuva Morcha (youth wing of the party) called for the march in protest against a number of issues, including corruption in the Trinamool Congress government, the declining law and order situation in the State, irregularities in the School Service Commission exams and the Teachers Eligibility Tests, and growing unemployment.
A huge police force was deployed to thwart thousands of BJP workers from across the State in their protest march, leading to violent confrontations in different parts of Kolkata and Howrah. Arterial roads and State highways turned into war zones as the two forces strained against each other across barricades and waged pitched battles with tear gas, batons, water cannons and bricks. While the BJP maintained that its “peaceful” protest was set upon with “barbaric” aggression by the State police, the police claimed that weapons and firearms were seized from BJP workers participating in the march. Heavyweight Cabinet Minister of Bengal Firhad Hakim said, “The BJP is not a political party. It is a terror organisation. A political rally does not take place carrying fire arms…. I will ask the police to do what is required to deal with them.”
The BJP also alleged that Trinamool activists disguised as police personnel attacked their rallies. Tejasvi Surya, national president of the BJP Yuva Morcha and Lok Sabha MP from Bengaluru South, who took part in the protest, accused the West Bengal government of being “the most corrupt” government in the country and stated that “Democracy and constitutional law was murdered by Mamata Banerjee”. “The police of West Bengal, who are today functioning as puppets of Mamata Banerjee, with no respect for the rule of law, have been hand in glove with the goons of TMC (Trinamool) and have inflicted barbaric damage on our karyakartas (workers),” Tejasvi said at a press conference in Kolkata after the protest. The BJP claimed that more than 1,000 of their workers were injured, and more than 500 were arrested. Along with Tejasvi and most of the top BJP leaders of the State, the party’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya also participated in the protest march.
Blue colour to identify protesters
Tejasvi also raised the issue of coloured water being used by the police while using water cannons to disperse the protesters. “A dark blue chemical was used in the water cannon…. What was in this chemical? Nowhere in the world has the police force ever used a dark blue coloured liquid which burns the human skin and causes vomiting,” he said. West Bengal Chief Cecretary Alapan Bandopadhyay clarified that the colour was the same as generally used during Holi, and was used to identify the protesters later on, if necessary. Alapan praised the police for showing restraint under provocation. “Police were attacked and some policemen were injured. There was recovery of arms,” he said. The BJP alleged that its workers were thus marked so they could later be identified and their families terrorised by activists of the ruling party. According to Tejasvi, in the last two years more than 120 karyakartas of the BJP and the Bharatiya Yuva Morcha have been “murdered in a very barbaric and callous manner in the State”
Government shuts Secretariat for sanitisation
The day before the ‘Nabanna Abhijan’, the government issued a notification saying that the Secretariat would remain shut for the next two days for “deep cleaning and sanitisation”. According to the notification, it was a decision “taken long back and as per standard periodic regular practices…”. However, the BJP was quick to try and gain political mileage from the decision by alleging that the government was apprehensive of the BJP’s show of strength. “Mamata didi is scared of the Yuva Morcha, and that is why she has closed Nabanna for two days. But this fear is good. From out of this fear a new Bengal and a new India will emerge,” said Tejasvi.
The government’s decision was also questioned by political observers. While some claim that it was aimed at robbing the BJP of the “target” of its protest march, others felt it may not have been a wise decision as it gave the impression that the government was indeed nervous about the ‘Abhijan’. According to the political observer Biswanath Chakraborty, shutting down Nabanna with the excuse of sanitising it, has sent a wrong signal to even Trinamool supporters. “This has given the BJP the handle to say that Mamata Banerjee is afraid of the saffron party. The sanitisation could easily have taken place over the weekend too,” he said.
Courtesy – The Hindu