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Vidyasagar bust desecration triggers BJP-TMC spat, stirs

Press Trust of India  |  Kolkata/New Delhi 

A day after the bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar lay shattered at a Kolkata college during Tuesday's violence, the BJP and TMC were locked in bitter recrimination over its desecration as 'Bengali pride' overtook all other issues before the last phase of polling on May 19.

The 19th century icon of 'Bengal Renaissance' was suddenly pitchforked into public discourse during the cut and thrust of a gruelling election, with both the BJP and the Trinamool Congress blaming each other for the act that many consider is nothing short of sacrilege in the state.

BJP chief Amit Shah, whose convoy was attacked by alleged TMC workers during a roadshow that triggered violence and arson, claimed in New Delhi that workers of West Bengal's ruling party vandalised the bust.

The TMC shot back, blaming the "BJP goons" for the act and claiming it has video evidence to prove the allegation.

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-social reformer inside the campus was damaged.

Shah alleged that the vandalisation of the statue was an act staged by "TMC goons" to gain "sympathy" as the party led by Mamata Banerjee has realised its "reverse count" has begun.

"If she 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," he said.

BJP leaders and workers were on the road outside the campus and its gates remained closed even during the violence, he said, adding that his party's supporters could not have gone inside to desecrate the statue located far inside a room.

"All evidence indicate that TMC goons were behind it. The TMC has done this to turn around a losing battle. It has lost in all six phases so far. For vote bank politics, statue of a famous educationist was damaged. The countdown for the end of the TMC rule has begun," Shah said.

The TMC made identical accusations against the BJP and its parliamentary team met the Election Commission in the national capital where it submitted "proof" to back its claim.

Before heading to the poll panel, its leader Derek O'Brien asserted: "The video not only clearly establishes what the BJP did, but proves that its chief Amit Shah is a liar and 'dhokhebaaz' (cheat)."

"The streets of Kolkata are tinged with shock and anger. What happened yesterday hurt Bengali pride," O'Brien said.

One of the videos shows a group of men purportedly trying to pull down the gates to 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 claim.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had said on Tuesday that she had no words to condemn the incident, led an about 5-km march from Gandhi Bhavan in Beliaghata to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's statue at Shyam Bazaar.

Thousands carrying framed photographs of Bengali icons like Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo followed her, matching the TMC boss' brisk pace.

A cross section of Bengali society--from film personalities to poets and sportspeople-- reacted to the vandalisation of Vidyasagar's statue with collective outrage.

"I condemn the incident. I have no words to express my anger. Today, I am reacting to this because of Vidyasagar. That the women of the country are what they are today is because of Vidyasagar," film actor-director Aparna Sen said of the social reformer whose tireless efforts led to the enactment of the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.

Poetess Mandakranta Sen called it a direct attack on "Bengali culture".

"I suppose those who vandalised the bust of Vidyasagar do not have any idea about the great son of Bengal. They are illiterate hooligans who do not care about any culture. But by doing this they will not be able to erase Vidyasagar from our minds. He will remain there for eternity," she told PTI.

Echoing her views poet-novelist Nabanita Deb Sen called the incident "political vandalism meant for elections". "This is disgusting," she said.

Jhulan Goswami, former captain of India's women's cricket team, said she got introduced to Bengali script through Vidyasagar's work 'Barno porichoy'.

"He is there in our heart. What Bengali women are today is because of Vidyasagar," she said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, May 15 2019. 21:06 IST