Clashes in Kolkata as India heads for final phase of polls

BJP supporters facing off Indian police amid clashes between rival groups during a campaign rally event held by BJP president Amit Shah in Kolkata on Tuesday. Fifty-nine people were arrested in the street battles.
BJP supporters facing off Indian police amid clashes between rival groups during a campaign rally event held by BJP president Amit Shah in Kolkata on Tuesday. Fifty-nine people were arrested in the street battles.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KOLKATA • Clashes between followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an opposition leader heightened tensions in the key Indian city of Kolkata yesterday ahead of the final round of the country's hard-fought national election.

Fifty-nine people were arrested in street battles late on Tuesday that forced Mr Amit Shah, president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to leave an election rally in the eastern metropolis under armed guard, police in West Bengal state said.

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

The state has been hit by repeated violence between the two parties during the six-week-long election that ends on Sunday.

Results will be announced on May 23.

Mr 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 Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of orchestrating attacks on Mr Shah's roadshow.

"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.

 
 
 

Ms Banerjee, who called a protest rally yesterday, hit back by accusing Mr Shah of acting like a "god" who does not allow protests.

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

"It became worse when 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.

The BJP held a silent protest in Delhi against the violence in West Bengal. The TMC and its allies held rival protests in Kolkata.

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Clashes in Kolkata as India heads for final phase of polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe