Supporters of the Indian Secular Front (ISF) clashed with police at Esplanade on Saturday, stalling traffic in the heart of the city for over an hour.
The clash started with the ISF supporters, mostly from Bhangar on the city’s eastern fringe, blocking the city’s busiest intersection around 5pm. When senior officers failed to persuade them to withdraw the blockade, the police began a lathi charge.
Stones were hurled at cops and the police responded with tear gas.
With shells landing on the Esplanade intersection, a section of ISF supporters charged at the police holding their party flags. Guard rails — set up to prevent supporters from moving ahead — were pulled down, a few two-wheelers were damaged and glass planes of the Metro Channel police kiosk were smashed.
As violence continued to escalate from RR Avenue towards the Esplanade intersection, additional reinforcements, Rapid Action Force (RAF), were called in to try to disperse the ISF brigade, a section of whom kept charging at the police with bamboo sticks and stones.
At least 19 police personnel were injured — 10 were admitted to SSKM Hospital. Two ISF supporters were also admitted there. Some of the injured police were admitted to the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.
Police commissioner Vineet Goyal visited the injured at the hospital in the evening. Speaking about what led to the clash, he said the police tried to disperse the road blockers. The police, he said, had to use “mild force”, in which a few ISF workers were also injured.
“Some ISF supporters started attacking the police, following which we had to use mild force and tear gas shells. Nineteen people, including Naushad Siddiqui, have been arrested and charged for attacking police personnel, damage to public property, throwing bricks and rioting,” he said.
Siddiqui is an ISF leader and the Bhangar MLA.
Goyal said 19 police personnel, including three senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, were injured.
The clash forced long rows of cars and buses to remain stranded on the Park Street flyover, Chowringhee Road, Park Street and Central Avenue till about 6.15pm.
Several shops on SN Banerjee Road, Lindsay Street, Lenin Sarani and New Market had downed their shutters as ISF supporters ran amok in the face of police lathi charge.
Almost an hour and a half later, as vehicles started moving, several customers who were caught inside shops dotting the area were seen stepping out with their hands raised.
The afternoon clash was a fallout of an earlier one that rocked parts of Bhangar in the morning when truckloads of ISF supporters were allegedly heckled and prevented from heading to RR Avenue in Esplanade to attend a party rally. ISF workers alleged that Trinamul workers had attacked them and their leader was stopped on the way, allegedly by a team of Trinamul supporters led by Arabul Islam.
“The road blockade at Esplanade was in protest of the attack on our workers and supporters in Bhangar. We were demanding the arrest of Arabul Islam when police lathi-charged,” said a senior ISF leader.
ISF is the only opposition party other than BJP to have won a seat in the 2021 state Assembly elections.