Shadow of Vidyasagar bust vandalism on Kolkata North poll

Amit Shah's Kolkata roadshow
Kolkata: BJP workers ahead of Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata on May 14, 2019. (Photo: IANS)

Kolkata, May 18 (IANS) An uneasy calm prevails in and around Vidyasagar College, that has been at the centre of a political tornado over violence and vandalism of Bengali polymath Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s bust during BJP President Amit Shah’s high-voltage road show in the area earlier this week.

The century old institution falls under the prestigious Kolkata North parliamentary constituency, that will go to the polls along with eight other Lok Sabha seats in the state in the last phase of polling on May 19.

Days after the frenzied incident, which turned the area into a battleground, the century old institution on Bidhan Sarani bore a desolate look with both its gates locked. None of the students or college officials could be seen from outside while a significant number of police personnel were picketing opposite the college.

Several large posters and banners of protest, some of them bearing the picture of the broken bust, dotted the front gate and adjacent walls of the college. One such posters read “barnaparichay er upor Aghat er Pratibad” (protest against the attack on Barnaparichay – a book of Bengali alphabet and primary Bengali reader written by Vidyasagar).

A number of locals, young and old, said the attack on the statue of a Bengali icon like Vidyasagar may considerably impact the election result.

“No one here is discussing about it openly, but there is no doubt that it was an untoward incident and locals have not liked it. We sensed a tension since afternoon. But I haven’t seen such violence in the area ever before,” said M. Rahaman, who works at a Visva-Bharati publication’s book shop adjacent to the college.

“Right now there is confusion regarding who vandalised the bust. But if it is proved that the BJP supporters were involved it can impact the votes to an extent,” he said.

The constituency, once considered a hub of commercial activity, education and cultural activities of the city, comprises seven assembly segments — Chowringhee, Entally, Beleghata, Jorasanko, Shyampukur, Maniktala and Kashipur Belgachhia.

It is set to witness a four-cornered battle on paper with all four mainstream parties fielding their candidates

The state’s ruling Trinamool Congress has fielded sitting MP and Saradha chit fund scam accused Sudip Bandyopadhyay while the BJP has nominated the party’s national secretary Rahul Sinha, who contested the seat five years back too. CPI-M’s Kaninika Bose Ghosh and Syed Shahid Imam of the Congress are also in the fray.

However, with many smaller parties fielding candidates, the Lok Sabha seat with the lowest number of voters in the state (14.44 lakh) has 21 candidates, which is highest among the 42 constituencies across the state.

In the last general elections, Bandyopadhyay defeated Sinha by close to one lakh votes. He got nearly 36 per cent of the votes. But BJP saw a massive 21 per cent surge in vote share compared to the 2009 elections, when the constituency was formed following delimitation.

Bandyopadhyay, a four-time MP, had won the 2009 election with a margin of 1.09 lakh votes, garnering 52.5 per cent vote share. His nearest rival, Mohammed Salim, got over 40 per cent votes while BJP Tathagata Roy got a paltry 4.22 per cent.

This time around Sinha believes that there has been a rise in the party’s support base across Bengal. That, combined with a high-octane campaign and allegations of corruption against the incumbent MP will turn the tide in his favour, he says.

“It is difficult to point out what is lacking in the constituency as almost no work has been done in the last five years. The list of complaints against him (Bandyopadhyay) is very long. He could not be with the people here as he was in jail for close to two years in connection with the Saradha scam,” Sinha told IANS.

“Syndicate raj and land mafia raj are going on in north Kolkata with the backing of the sitting MP. The condition of roads, sewage, and environment is terrible. The people of Kolkata are upset with Trinamool Congress. Wherever I go, I find BJP supporters. I am sure of winning,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bandypadhyay seemed certain of his victory in the election.

“During my election campaign I sometimes felt like taking rest to make space for other parties. So far I did not find any other party on the streets except Trinamool Congress,” Bandyopadhyay said.

“I have won in eight elections (four of them assembly polls) so far and am fighting to win for the ninth time. On the other hand the BJP candidate has not been able to win a single election. The statistics show, who is the favourite this time,” he said taking a swipe at Sinha.

A group of youths, busy playing carom board outside ‘Indian Boys Club’ in the Girish Park area claimed people in the area will think twice before voting for BJP after the Vaidyasagar college incident. The BJP has, however, vehemently denied the allegation, and instead pointed fingers at the Trinamool Congress for hatching a conspiracy.

Near Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House and Cultural Centre on Vivekananda Road, about a kilometer away from Vidyasagar College, marks of Shah’s massive rally were still evident as large cut outs of the smiling faces of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah himself dotted both sides of the road.

Shah was supposed to garland the massive statue of Vivekananda at the end of his road show on Tuesday but had to cut short the procession due to the violence.

Asishgopal Majumdar, librarian of the 97-year-old D.M. Library opposite Vivekananda’s childhood residence, said the shift in Kolkata’s culture in recent years had propelled the BJP to get a toehold in the city.

“We cannot deny that there has been a shift in our culture. Bengalis are accepting the culture of the Hindi-belt more and more. It is no surprise that the BJP is getting a large support base here,” Majumdar said.

“The development here has been mostly ornamental. Yes, the roads and pavements have improved. The area is well lit. Vivekananda’s house has been renovated. But none of the candidates talk about education and environment. They are resorting to uncouth behaviour in the name of campaign. We need to change this,” he added.

(Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at [email protected])

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