The vandalisation of a bust of 19th century social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in Kolkata and subsequent clashes triggered a fierce blame game between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress on Wednesday, days ahead of the last phase of Lok Sabha polls.
BJP Chief Amit Shah, at a press conference here, alleged that Mamata Banerjee's TMC was involved in vandalising Vidyasagar's bust and unleashing violence during his roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday as part of a "conspiracy" to blame the BJP.
On its part, the TMC released videos to claim that "BJP goons" damaged the statue and "hurt Bengali pride". The Mamata Banerjee-led party alleged the videos not only establish what the BJP did, but proved that Shah is a "liar" and a "dhokebaaz" (betrayer).
The Congress and the CPI(M) too targeted the BJP over the damage to the bust at Vidyasagar College, which was on the route of Shah's rally.
A Trinamool Parliamentary team comprising Derek O'Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, Manish Gupta, Nadimul Haque met the Election Commission over the issue and submitted what they called "proof" against the BJP.
Condemning the violence, the Congress accused Narendra Modi-Shah duo of promoting "mobocracy" in the country and damaging the cultural identity of the states.
In his press conference, Shah accused the Election Commission of adopting "double standards" and remaining a "mute spectator" to rigging and poll code violations in West Bengal. Showing pictures of Tuesday's violence to blame the TMC, he said, "If she (Banerjee) has nothing to hide, I will ask Mamata ji to seek a probe by a neutral agency, by an SIT (special investigation team) constituted by the Kolkata High Court or the Supreme Court."
The "countdown" of Banerjee's days in power will begin on May 23, when general election results will be declared, Shah warned, adding it would have been difficult for him to survive the attack on his convoy but for the security of CRPF.
"History-sheeters...are arrested during elections across the country. In Bengal, they are released after furnishing a bond. What is this double standards from the EC? Why is it silent," he asked.
The BJP chief said election observers in their reports have said polls in the state cannot be conducted fairly till such miscreants are arrested but the EC did not act. It raises a lot of questions on the election watchdog's impartiality, he said.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi condemned the desecration of the statue of the national icon and social reformer, terming it a "shameful act".
"A new politics where 'mobocracy' is being actively encouraged and abetted by the ruling party, BJP, in the country has gained ground in the past five years.
"Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah-led BJP are squarely responsible for systematically damaging the cultural identity of each state in India. The Modi-Shah duo are responsible for promoting mobocracy in the country," he told reporters.
Accusing the BJP-RSS of systematically attacking Bengal and its ethos, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the saffron party was opposed to the very ideas propagated by Vidyasagar.
"Not about just a statue, but a systematic attack on Bengal. One of the biggest symbols of Bengal renaissance is what BJP-RSS have attacked. These obscurantists have always opposed Vidyasagar's ideas. But Bengal will not succumb,"he tweeted.
TMC leader Derek O'Brien said, "The video not only clearly establishes what the BJP did, but proves that its chief Amit Shah is a liar and 'dhokebaaz' (betrayer)."
"The streets of Kolkata are tinged with shock and anger. What happened yesterday hurt Bengali pride," O'Brien said, adding the TMC will submit the videos, it has, to the poll panel and is authenticating them on record.
One of the videos shows a group of men purportedly trying to break down the gate of the Vidyasagar college and enter the campus by jumping over its walls.
"It is a childish argument to ask who had the keys to the gate? The video establishes beyond doubt who desecrated the statue," O'Brien said, claiming his party has as many as 44 videos to support its claims.
He was reacting to Shah's claim that the BJP workers could not have got access to the bust as it was kept in a locked room on the college premises and his party men were outside the closed college gate.
The TMC also showed a video and WhatsApp message allegedly by a BJP supporter asking people to come to Shah's roadshow with rods and arms to fight the TMC and police.
"The central forces are in cahoots with the BJP. We have written to the EC thrice and this will be our fourth letter," the TMC leader said.
BJP and TMC supporters clashed on the streets of Kolkata during a massive roadshow of Shah who had to cut short the event mid-way due to the violence.
The violence apparently began after suspected TMC supporters hurled stones at the BJP convoy from inside the hostel of Vidyasagar College. Furious BJP workers retaliated and during the clash a bust of the polymath and philosopher inside the campus was damaged.
The election in West Bengal has been marred by incidents of violence and targeted attacks on rival party candidates.
Hitting back at TMC's charge that the BJP was behind the violence, Shah said his party has been contesting elections in every state and is in power in 16, but it is only in West Bengal that violence is being seen.
Shah said Banerjee has issued threats in her speeches but has not been barred from campaigning, alleging that democracy is being throttled in the state.