Calcutta, Nov. 20: A group of youths shouting Vande Mataram tried to set fire to a bus with passengers right next to a petrol pump today in protest against the arrest of Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury.
The five youths boarded the Dum Dum-bound state bus in the afternoon in front of Victoria House. As the bus started moving, they got up. One of them took out two bottles of petrol from his pocket and hurled one on the engine cover beside the driver and the other at the rear of the bus.
Another pinned the conductor to the floor and stood at the gate blocking the exit. When panicky passengers tried to jump out they were forced back. One of the youths struck matches and threw them in the direction of the bottles and the group broke into shouts of Vande Mataram.
As flames leapt up from the front and rear of the bus ' on route L3B ' the driver, Arun Das, swerved to the right and rammed into the road divider as he tried to take the vehicle as far away as possible from the petrol pump.
Anup Singh, a passenger and an NCC cadet, said: “The driver showed excellent presence of mind. Through the haze of smoke and the flames I could see the petrol pump and my heart raced. I shudder to think what would have happened if the bus had rammed into the petrol pump.”
After the bus hit the divider, the passengers got into a scuffle with the youths in their attempt to get out of the vehicle. They could get off the bus only after the youths fled.
Singh, a resident of Ghoshpara in north Calcutta, called the police control room at Lalbazar from his mobile phone.
The police said the bus had just rolled out of the Esplanade depot, which was why it had only seven passengers, this being a Sunday afternoon.
A senior police officer said: “Today’s incident could have been serious. It reminds us of an incident in the early 1980s when Molotov cocktails were hurled at a state bus in south Calcutta during a Congress-sponsored bandh in which several people died.”
Yards away, opposite Metro cinema, central minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, former mayor Subrata Mukherjee and other Congress leaders were addressing a gathering to protest against Chowdhury’s arrest.
Chowdhury was remanded in jail custody till November 28 in his hometown of Behrampore in Murshidabad district where some 3,000 Congress supporters battled with the police for an hour outside the court premises.
The Congress had called a 12-hour bandh to observe black day in Murshidabad and neighbouring Nadia and Birbhum.