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BJP workers, police clash in Kolkata, 71 injured, 141 arrested

IANS | Kolkata |

BJP activists on Thursday clashed with security personnel here on Thursday during a protest march that turned parts of the city hub into war zones, and left over 50 BJP workers and 21 police personnel injured. One police vehicle was torched, and a number of government and private cars damaged in the violence.

While the BJP claimed 200 of its workers were injured and charged the police with making "unprovoked attacks" by roping in the state's ruling Trinamool Congress cadres, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee rejected allegations of police excesses. Instead, she accused the BJP of unleashing violence.

"We have arrested 141 people, including prominent BJP leaders. They are still in custody," said Joint Commissioner of Police (Headquarters), Supratim Sarkar at the end of day that saw the police use water canons, batons and lob teargas shells on BJP activists, who hurled bricks to protest the law and order situation and "fake cases" lodged against party workers,

Sarkar accused the BJP of indulging in "planned lawlessness" during the party's 'March to Lalbazar' (city police headquarters), and throwing a "petrol bomb" at the police.

"Over 50 BJP workers and 21 police personnel were injured. Several of the injured police personnel were women. Some have head injuries. We will file cases under non-bailable sections against those activists against whom we find prima facie evidence of violence based on our video footage," said Sarkar.

Among the arrested BJP leaders were its national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, national secretary Rahul Sinha, party's state unit chief Dilip Ghosh, Rajya Sabha MP Rupa Ganguly and state secretary Locket Chatterjee.

"Four cars were damaged. The vehicle of the Officer-in-charge of the Amherst Street Police station was torched," Sarkar said.

Actress-turned-politicians Ganguly and Chatterjee were taken ill after scuffling and jostling with the police personnel who faced a torrid time reining in the rampaging Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers.

Chatterjee had to be taken to the Kolkata Medical College for treatment after her arrest.

A police vehicle was torched on B.B. Ganguly Street close to Lalbazar. A number of police personnel also sustained injuries from the stone missiles hurled at them.

However, Sinha denied their workers had thrown bombs.

"Police are trying to mislead everybody by claiming that bombs were hurled, while actually it was only the sound of teargas shells lobbed by the police," said an injured Sinha.

Near Bentinck Street, a number of BJP activists lay wounded after a round of baton charge. A couple of women activists were seen resting beside the police guard rail with head injuries.

After being driven away by the police and Rapid Action Force personnel from Central Avenue, some BJP activists took shelter inside the Central Metro Station and pelted stones from there. They were detained later.

"They (BJP workers) damaged the metro station and brick-batted the police from the terrace of their state party headquarters," said Sarkar.

Earlier, before the march formally started, around 20 BJP workers surprised police personnel by suddenly arriving in a private bus near Lalbazar that was turned into a fortress since morning. They were immediately taken into custody.

Later in the day, the BJP supporters made more attempts to storm the police headquarters and reached its vicinity, only to be arrested.

Barricades, guard rails and iron scaffolding were set up and around 2,000 heavily armed personnel, including combat forces, Rapid Action Force and commandos, deployed to check any untoward incident. Drones kept a tab on the movement of protesters.

Thursday's protest came only three days after the Left peasant unions' 'March to Nabanna' (state secretariat) that had left nearly 200 people — protesters and police — injured.

The Chief Minister, who is in Delhi, showed pictures and videos of the violence on her mobile, and claimed police personnel including women were assaulted by BJP and Left activists during the respective protest marches.

"It is BJP and the CPI-M who have unleashed violence," Banerjee told the media in New Delhi after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On the other hand, state BJP spokesman Samik Bhattacharya called the state police "unprofessional" and "ferocious".

"What we saw today, is the police – unable to control our movement – brought in Trinamool-backed hooligans. Nothing can be more condemnable than this.

"They carried out unprovoked baton charge. Around 200 BJP workers, including women, were injured. Two of our workers admitted at the SSKM Hospital are very serious. One of them has internal haemorrhage, while a 27-year-old man vomited blood," he said.