Like many other times in the history of Bengal, a new, game-changing political narrative emerged out of Kolkata’s College Street on Tuesday, 14 May.
The nine remaining constituencies, out of the 42 in West Bengal, go to polls in the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections on Sunday, 19 May. Up until Tuesday evening, the elections for the Trinamool was centred around ‘Modi hatao’. Now it is about conserving Bengali heritage from those "who disrespect Vidyasagar".
What Led To The Vandalism
Between 6:30 pm and 7.30 pm, as BJP President Amit Shah's cavalcade was going past the main gate of Calcutta University in College Street, the fag end of his rally was met with a group from Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), the student wing of the Trinamool Congress, armed with black flags. The procession was right at the gate of Calcutta University, say eyewitnesses, and was shouting “Go back Amit Shah” slogans.
As the rally – in the North Kolkata constituency – was going past, the BJP cadre got into an altercation with the TMCP students at the gate of Calcutta University. However, the flashpoint was handled by the police who pushed all the students inside the university gate and rammed it shut.
The rally moved on without any interruption.
As it moved ahead and reached the gates of Vidyasagar College, the procession was again met by a group of TMCP students. The group was standing behind a closed gate, witnesses confirmed to The Quint.
This time, onlookers say, the situation degraded to violence very quickly. Those who witnessed the incident confirmed that stone-throwing and violence was carried out by both sides.
During the course of this incident, those involved scaled the wall of the college and went inside the campus. The front-end of the campus, including the bust of Vidyasagar, was vandalised thereafter. Four separate witnesses have told The Quint that those scaling the campus wall were wearing saffron.
Vidyasagar & Bengali Pride
Right after the incident, the Trinamool social media accounts and WhatsApp groups were buzzing about how the BJP has vandalised the bust of ‘Bengal’s son’ Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar.
At 8:31pm, Trinamool spokesperson Derek O’Brien uploaded a video on Twitter, saying that after Tagore, the BJP has “not even spared” Vidyasagar.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who reached the college soon after said:
“Each vote for the BJP will be revenge for attack on Vidyasagar’s statue.”
She went on to add that Amit Shah had brought in people from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and Jharkhand from his rally who carried out the vandalism because they did not know or understand what Vidyasagar means to Bengalis. They didn’t understand Bengali heritage.
As news of the violence and the “BJP’s attack on Vidyasagar” spread, social media and citizens of Kolkata were outraged at the fact that a Bengali icon was disrespected.
#GoBackBJP and #IStandWithVidyasagarCollege became a commonly used hashtag.
Sample some of the things that were written on social media:
“So RSS-BJP vandals clashing with TMC cadres entered Vidyasagar College, ransacked and burned college property and reportedly destroyed a statue of Vidyasagar. In Bengal, where the man’s contribution is immeasurable. And they have the audacity to beg for votes later! Smash the fascist scum where they stand! No pasaran, you riot-mongering children of Savarkar and Godse! #NotASingleVoteForFascistBJP“
“Vandalising Vidyasagar’s statue is shameful. He was one of the most progressive voices of India, promoting women’s rights & widow remarriage. He faced a lot of hate in his lifetime. Sad to see such hate revived.”
“The Ram naam chanting idiots cannot even comprehend the influence of Vidyasagar or Vivekananda in the Bengali society. Well done BJP. Today’s atrocities confirmed your failure in Bengal.
F**** uneducated and uncultured barbarians.”
Even those who are ordinarily apolitical had started commenting on the Bengali-non Bengali divide. The Trinamool added to the narrative as all its spokespersons emphasised repeatedly that everyone at the BJP rally was an “outsider”.
Interestingly, in an election meeting right before the incident occurred, Mamata had also mentioned the “outsiders” at the Shah rally.
Where The Situation Stands Now
The BJP has tried to do damage control by furnishing “evidence” that they did not vandalise the statue. The Trinamool Congress, on the other hand, has released a series of videos which very clearly show saffron-clad men inside the college campus.
The police detained 16 people from the spot on Tuesday. Thereafter, raids were conducted across the city last night and the present number of detainees stand at about 60.
However, the police remains tight-lipped about the identities of those detained and has also not released an account of how exactly the situation degraded to violence.
A BJP delegation led by Mukul Roy has also sought to meet the Governor of West Bengal today, as the Trinamool’s Parliamentary Committee has sought a meeting with the Election Commission.
Meanwhile, as far as Kolkata is concerned, it seems like Mamata has found her Balakot.
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