The memorial of the Mahatma, the beacon of non-violence, turned into a virtual warzone on Monday after Delhi Police evicted Trinamul Congress leaders and workers who, in turn, clashed with the law keepers outside the haloed precincts of Raj Ghat on the 154th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation.
Ugly scenes of police pushing, shoving and raising sticks to chase away the Trinamul supporters from the spot on Monday afternoon were witnessed even as party MPs like Kalyan Banerjee were seen engaging in a verbal altercation with the police.
MP Abhishek Banerjee, who is spearheading the two-day protest against the stoppage of central funds for two years, alleged that the party’s peaceful sit-in at Raj Ghat was repeatedly interrupted by the police who not only removed peripheral leaders and workers from the site but also “manhandled and misbehaved” with the women members of the protesting team at the Gandhi memorial.
For Banerjee, the day began with his reaching Raj Ghat at around 1 pm along with a contingent of TMC MPs and MLAs and offering his respects to the Mahatma. As previously scheduled, the leader, along with the accompanying Trinamul contingent, sat for a silent demonstration at the premises with black badges tied around their arms and placards demanding the immediate release of withheld funds under various schemes, including MNREGS, the 100-day rural employment guarantee scheme named after Gandhi.
The sanctity of the memorial premises, which attracted greater than usual visitors in the wake of Gandhi Jayanti, was stained after a verbal spat broke out between the protesting leaders and police who asked the demonstrators to move out ahead of the two-hour planned sit-in ended.
The police, deployed in significant numbers, flanked by armed paramilitary personnel and anti-riot water cannon vehicles, also interrupted Banerjee’s press meet outside the main gate of Raj Ghat by means of loudspeaker announcements on grounds that people’s entry inside the premises was getting obstructed. Forcing Banerjee to abandon his briefing session midway, the police then went on to remove the rest of the assembly and, in the process, instantly heated up the atmosphere with the resisting crowd.
The commotion forced party leaders to scoot and some like Minister Sujit Bose were seen walking away without shoes which he said “went missing”. At least two Trinamul MPs, Shantanu Sen and Shatabdi Roy, complained that their mobile phones were pickpocketed during the pandemonium. Minister Ghulam Rabbani was seen moving around aimlessly after having lost his way and the location of his car in the confusion.
Later, emerging from a meeting at Sudip Bandyopadhyay’s residence, Banerjee informed about his receipt of an e-mail intimation from the rural development ministry offering a rescheduled appointment at 6 pm on Tuesday. It wasn’t clear though whether the minister concerned, Giriraj Singh, would himself meet the delegation or depute his junior for the task.
“Since the original appointment has now been postponed from 12 noon, we will begin our dharna at the Jantar Mantar from 1 pm onwards and then take a delegation to the ministry later in the day,” Banerjee announced and warned: “If there is a single assault on any of the deprived commoners who will join us in Tuesday’s protest, then the BJP will face the consequences”.
The day also marked a bitter war of words of claims and counter-claims between the Trinamul and the BJP. Abhishek Banerjee’s claims of non-payment of dues were not only countered by a set of BJP leaders from Bengal – Sukanta Majumdar, Subhas Sarkar and Locket Chatterjee -- from the party’s headquarters right at the day’s beginning, minister Giriraj Singh joined the bandwagon from his Begusarai home constituency in Bihar followed by information minister Anurag Singh from the BJP party office in Delhi later in the day.
While Singh threatened to initiate a CBI probe into the large-scale “siphoning” of MNREGS funds by means of creating 25 lakh fake job cards, Thakur drew up a list of 10 districts of Bengal where irregularities were unearthed by probing central teams and the alleged hollowness in the Action Taken Reports subsequently filed by the state.
Taking on the BJP salvo at different points in time during the day, Banerjee demanded the “arrest of Giriraj Singh”, accusing him of non-release of funds and being responsible for the deaths of three children in Bankura who were crushed under a mud wall of their house in Bankura last week.
“Close to 60 lakh fake job cards were canceled in Yogi Adityanath-ruled Uttar Pradesh in a single year. No funds were withheld for them. Why single out Bengal?” Banerjee argued.
In Calcutta, the BJP mahila morcha held a day-long sit-in demonstration at the base of the Gandhi Statue at Mayo Road protesting grassroots corruption of the TMC administration where Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikar made his presence felt.