Children deserved better from the party that claims to be the principal opposition in West Bengal. The extent of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bangla bandh last Wednesday is of lesser moment than the fact that a bus ferrying 25 kids and a handful of teachers to DPS school at Megacity, on the outskirts of Kolkata, at 7 in the morning was the target of political fury, indeed calculated malevolence, unleashed by the party’s foot soldiers.

The children were out in search of learning; inherent therefore is the cruel irony of their denouement. Were the BJP activists reacting to the state education minister’s directive that all institutions must be open on bandh day? And so indeed they largely were, much to the chagrin of the bandh sponsors, however inconsequential in Bengal politics. To buttress the party’s agenda, the fundamental Right to Education was trashed in many schools on bandh day, with few recording normal attendance. Yet it must be conceded that the nuisance value of the saffronite party workers is considerable, recalling the worst in the heyday of the CPI-M.

In point of fact, the BJP’s youth wing can be no less destructive than the rest of the political spectrum. Details of the incident still remain fogbound. And yet the school bus was stopped with the dire threat that it would be set on fire, if it proceeded further. Short of carrying out that hideous threat, the windscreen was smashed, mercifully without inflicting injuries on the children and the teachers but not without having caused them incalculable trauma.

To quote from the FIR: “The bus was held up and attacked by an angry mob with bamboos. The mob threatened to burn the bus and kept hitting the vehicle and window panes”. It required considerable persuasion on the part of the teachers before the vehicle was allowed to rev up again.

The BJP national secretary, Rahul Sinha, ought to have been suitably responsible in his response ~ “This is a conspiracy by the Trinamul Congress and needs a proper investigation.” He could well have spared the children the pretty obvious ~ “Whatever happened is unfortunate and uncalled for.” This is neither here nor there. Beyond starting a case, the Bidhannagar Commissionerate is still not certain whether the suspects are the actual culprits.

A bus carrying school children may not signify an emergency service like the ambulance or fire brigade. That said, there can be no two opinions on the fact that it must not be attacked under any circumstances and regardless of the institution’s political affiliation. For the BJP to claim that the bandh was a “grand success” was a cruel joke. The Bengal unit of the party has driven the children quicker to tears and frantic screams than to a scintilla of learning. What will the children know of the mayhem at Islampur who only the joy of learning know?