Streetfight & summit 'ripple'

Clash on Swamiji birthday, Gadkari to skip meet

By Our Bureau
  • Published 13.01.18
A protester brandishes a wooden club and a BJP flag during the clash between Trinamul and BJP supporters on Central Avenue in Calcutta at 10.45am on Friday

Calcutta: BJP and Trinamul supporters clashed in the heart of Calcutta on Swami Vivekananda's birth anniversary on Friday morning, prompting the state BJP to announce the "atrocities" on its workers had led Union minister Nitin Gadkari to cancel his participation in the Bengal government's business summit next week.

"The minister, in view of what has happened here, has decided to boycott the summit," state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said hours after the clashes.

Sources in Gadkari's office confirmed he was unlikely to attend the event. They said this was because he cannot inaugurate a road project - his "primary objective" behind the proposed Bengal trip - while the model code of conduct is in place for the January 29 by-elections to the Uluberia (Lok Sabha) and Noapara (Assembly) seats.

Union ministers' participation is crucial for the investment summit as the bulk of the investment commitments at its last few editions had come from public-sector units.

"The PSU heads feel encouraged to announce investments in the presence of Union ministers.... If Gadkari opts out, it's bad news," a state government official said.

Trinamul supporters had in the morning allegedly raided a Pathuriaghata Street dharamshala where BJP supporters had gathered overnight for a march on Swami Vivekananda's anniversary on Friday. At least 12 people were injured and several cars had their windshields smashed.

After 45 minutes, the battle spilled over to Central Avenue, where helmet-wearing men and women went on the rampage with sticks and stones as an outnumbered police struggled to cope and vehicles tried to speed to safety.

The claim about Gadkari reflects a BJP attempt to play victim and embarrass the state's ruling establishment by alleging a collapse of law and order.

Told about the reason given by Gadkari's office for his likely cancellation of the trip, a state BJP politician said: "That's the official reason that Gadkari, as a Union cabinet minister, has to give to the state government. The decision was political."

Ghosh claimed the "last-minute change" in Gadkari's plans owed to his lobbying with BJP national president Amit Shah, but this could not be independently verified.

Trinamul termed the development "unfortunate" and said if such a boycott does take place, it would reflect poorly on the Centre.

"If he boycotts the summit on a party diktat, it can be assumed that the Centre does not prioritise industry and employment generation," Trinamul secretary-general Partha Chatterjee said. "If the priority is to listen to the party, it's very unfortunate.'

Ghosh claimed that Shah had told him to capitalise on Friday's clashes and gain some momentum for the party.

On Friday, the BJP demonstrated before the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road against "Trinamul's state-sponsored terrorism" and handed a memorandum to governor Keshari Nath Tripathi. On Saturday, it will protest outside every police station in the state.

"I told the national leadership that the state unit would do the needful, but the actions of the national leadership should be in tune with our stand," Ghosh said. "There should be zero cooperation from the Centre towards the state."

Ghosh declined to answer whether that would not amount to an attack on the federal structure of the Constitution.

Sources said the BJP, struggling to find a foothold in Bengal, believes that Friday's incident --- allegedly stemming from some local Trinamul activists' adventurism --- may be a boon for it.

Trinamul attacked the BJP's approach to politics in Bengal and accused it of disrespecting Vivekananda.