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BJP on streets in heartland battle

- Protests against Akhilesh with eye on opposition space
A BJP activist fights with a policeman during the protest outside the Assembly in Lucknow on Monday. (PTI)

Lucknow, June 30: The BJP today fought police batons and water cannons to protest spiralling crime in Uttar Pradesh in the second such protest this month against the Samajwadi government aimed at pitching itself as the state’s main Opposition.

The hour-long street battles near the Assembly contrasted with the largely verbal attacks on the Akhilesh Yadav administration by other Opposition parties like Mayawati’s BSP and the Congress.

The protests come at a time Amit Shah, the BJP’s heartland minder seen as the architect of the party’s resounding Lok Sabha triumph that saw it bag 73 of the 80 seats, is tipped to be the party’s national president.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest aide is learnt to have asked the state unit to gear up for a slew of polls —the bypolls next month, urban local bodies late this year and panchayats next year.

The attempts to secure the main Opposition space has parallels with Bengal where the BJP made inroads in several Lok Sabha constituencies and is increasingly viewed by the ruling Trinamul as its key rival instead of the CPM.

Although today’s demonstrations in Lucknow were prescheduled, it coincided with a spate of crimes in the past 24 hours, handing the BJP ammunition to escalate the campaign against the Akhilesh government.

A student leader, Abhishek Singh, 23, was shot dead late last night in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary constituency. A bank employee was shot at and Rs 25 lakh snatched from him in Fatehpur. Armed gangs looted passengers in two trains in western Uttar Pradesh.

“This is only the last 24 hours. Go back to another day and you have newspapers filled with crime reports, especially against women. We want justice for the ordinary people”, said Ashutosh Rai, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the BJP’s youth wing that led today’s protests.

The demonstrations began at noon but soon turned violent, with the protesters, sporting saffron scarves and turbans, clashing with the police and breaking through barricades outside the Assembly.

State BJP president Lakhsmikant Bajpai claimed at least 100 party workers were injured in the lathicharge by the police, while the cops claimed six of their personnel were wounded in splinter attacks by the protesters. “We aren’t going to give up. We will not let this government sleep peacefully till the rapes, murder and loot stop,” Bajpai warned.

Today’s street skirmishes came within weeks of the BJP’s demonstrations earlier this month against the gang rape and murder of two Dalit sisters in Badaun.

The case is being probed by the CBI, which was handed the job after national outrage at the atrocity. A constable is among the accused.