EC credibility: Kolkata violence and six unanswered questions

Violence in Kolkota
Did the police allow the mob to go on a rampage for four hours? Photo: PTI File

Even as Bengal erupted in protest over the mayhem witnessed during BJP president Amit Shah’s road show in the heart of Kolkata on Tuesday, The Federal gives a brief rundown on some glaring administrative lapses that could have prevented the violence. The lapses raise serious questions on the role of the Election Commission too.

Relaxation of prohibitory order

Section 144 has been in place in the entire College Street area from where the violence was triggered, since June 2017 to ban all kinds of meetings and rallies in the sensitive spot. Why then was the prohibitory order relaxed for four hours, allowing the BJP president to take the route during his roadshow?

Intelligence failure

A few hours prior to the start of Shah’s rally from Dharmatala, the BJP workers clashed with the police and employees of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) when they were reportedly removing some illegal hoardings put up for the rally at Lelin Sarani. A KMC vehicle was vandalized during the clash.

The incident should have served as a warning for the administration to take some extra precaution.

Security breaches

Why did the police not disperse students of the Calcutta University who had gathered with black flags and posters in front of the institution to protest the BJP president’s campaign? The black flags waved at Shah and the ‘go back’ slogans hurled at him by TMC workers under the garb of students were the much-needed spark for the surcharged BJP workers to go amok. The TMC supporters also allegedly hurled stones and shoes at the rally. However, the scene did not take an ugly turn due to heavy police presence outside the institution.

No deployment at Vidyasagar College

Vidyasagar College at Bidhan Sarani, just 1.6 km away from Calcutta University, became the centre of clashes as, surprisingly, no police presence was there despite a large number of students gathering on the campus even before the rally started.  Who granted permission for the gathering on the campus?

Late reaction of police  

Video footage of the incidents clearly show men clad in ‘NaMo Again’ saffron t-shirts gutting bikes parked outside the college campus, breaking lock of the college’s main iron gate with sticks to barge into the campus. It was also seen that some from the mob, who had broken into the campus, coming out with debris from the desecrated bust of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar.

They went on the rampage in and around the area for almost 15 minutes before the police reached the spot. What caused the delay, when a large posse of policemen and at least four senior police officers were present outside the Calcutta University, which was hardly ten minutes away?

Viral video

A day before the rally, a video of a BJP worker Rakesh Singh went viral in which he was seen urging members of WhatsApp group ‘Fatafati’ (the Bengali word means outstanding) to assemble with eight-foot long sticks at Shah’s rally to fight ‘police and TMC goons.’ Singh was a Youth Congress activist who recently joined the BJP.

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh defended Singh in an interview to a website. “It’s obvious that we have to take steps to save ourselves from TMC goons as Kolkata police will not help us.”

Now, the question is why did the police not react to the video and take some preventive measures?

Damaged CCTV

The Vidyasagar College management too cannot wash their hands off for having turned a blinfd eye to a huge gathering on the campus ahead of a sensitive political event.

The CCTVs installed on the campus were reportedly not functioning, which is again a glaring security lapse. Why were the cameras not repaired?