Trinamul Congress national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee’s convoy came under attack, allegedly from a section of members of the Kurmi community, in Jhargram on Friday evening where the leader’s ongoing Naba Jowar Yatra mass outreach programme had moved in from Purulia.
Cabinet minister in Mamata Banerjee’s government and local MLA Birbaha Hansda’s car was among the multiple vehicles vandalized by miscreants. While the driver of the minister’s vehicle sustained eye injuries from bricks pelted at her vehicle, Hansda too reportedly was manhandled by the protesters.
Windscreens and glasses of cars in Banerjee’s convoy, including vehicles belonging to the media, were smashed with bamboo poles. Several TMC workers moving on two-wheelers were also reportedly attacked. Some policemen also sustained injuries on account of brick batting taking place in the dark.
The incident took place at around 7.15 pm on Friday at Garh Salboni in the Lodhasuli area of the district through which Banerjee’s convoy was passing for a prescheduled meeting of local Trinamul leaders and workers in Gopiballavpur.
The tension on the ground became so widespread within minutes of the attack that Banerjee disembarked from his vehicle and walked for about a kilometre to try and speak to the protestors. The leader though failed to pacify the mob which continued to target vehicles even after Banerjee left the spot.
The Kurmis, recognized as an Other Backward Class (OBC) group, have been demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for a while now. The community has, in the recent past, resorted to widespread agitation in neighbouring districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. Blockades of railway tracks and national highways over long periods of time have repeatedly left local police and administration helpless in the wake of the fact that the community’s primary demand is outside the purview of the state administration and can only be fulfilled by the Centre.
On Friday a section of the community, led by a local Kurmi leader Rajesh Mahato, had blocked the NH5 at Garh Salboni ahead of Abhishek’s scheduled time of passing through the area. While police persuasion resulted in protestors withdrawing the blockade, they reportedly launched their assault on the rest of the convoy as soon as Banerjee’s car had passed the spot.
Minister Hansda’s car was among the worst affected with its windscreen thoroughly smashed and her driver injured.
Significantly, the violence took place less than a day ahead of party supremo Mamata Banerjee’s scheduled visit to Salboni where she is supposed to join Abhishek’s campaign and share the dais with her nephew on Saturday.
Abhishek, reportedly, called up the chief minister from the spot and provided her with details of the attack. While the state Director General of Police Manoj Malviya has asked for a report on the alleged attack on the Z plus category protectee from SP, Jhargram Arijit Sinha, the state’s director of security Piyush Pandey has also sought a parallel report from the top brass of district police on reasons why security was breached on the leader’s prescheduled route.
Speaking at a public meeting later at Gopiballavpur, Banerjee said he believed that there were “other political faces lurking behind the Kurmis” who orchestrated the attack and demanded that community leaders should come out with a formal statement within 48 hours on whether the violence took place with their consent.
“We will find out exactly who was behind this violence. But if there is no statement from the Kurmi leadership in the next 48 hours, we will assume this happened with their consent,” Banerjee said.
“No constructive political movement can take place with such violent means. Everyone has the right to agitate for legitimate demands, but how can this be the way? I was told they wanted to give me a memorandum. I walked my way to them but they had vanished. I have already gathered information on who was behind this and the administration will take adequate steps. But I urge the Kurmi community people to not fall into these traps,” he added.
Birbaha Hansda, on the other hand, blamed the police for their inability to control the mob. “I saw Kurmi leader Rajesh Mahato at the spot and asked him why he resorted to violence. He said outsiders had infiltrated his group. This cannot be the means for a community movement. What we are witnessing here is dirty politics,” the ST leader said.