Kolkata, Oct 16: Four Trinamool Congress legislators, including Leader of Opposition in West Bengal assembly Partha Chattopadhyay, were arrested for staging a sit-in before Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s office here Friday, as confrontation in the politically fragmented state extended to the heart of the metropolis.Amidst high drama, the slogan-shouting legislators arrived at the state secretariat Writers’ Buildings minutes after Bhattacharjee left for home for lunch, and began the sit-in demanding his arrest for allegedly “masterminding” political violence across the state.
It was a virtual replay of the incident on Jan 7, 1993, when Chattopadhyay’s party supremo Mamata Banerjee - then a union minister of state and a Congress leader - sat before erstwhile chief minister Jyoti Basu’s chamber at Writers’ Buildings with a deaf and dumb girl, who she claimed was raped. After several hours, police had swung into action and bodily lifted Banerjee out of the secretariat.
On Friday, as news of the Trinamool legislators’ arrest spread, party workers took to the streets in large number across the state, and demonstrated at key intersections from 5 p.m. as part of a two-hour agitation announced by Banerjee in the event of the four legislators’ arrest.
However, Bhattacharjee, who returned to his office late afternoon cordoned off by heavily armed police personnel, termed the whole incident as “opposition circus”. “I got to know about the whole incident when I was in the car on my way home. I was surprised. I discussed the issue with the chief secretary and the home secretary who tried to persuade them to come to the discussion table,” Bhattacharjee said.
“I showed patience hoping good sense will prevail. When I returned I saw the mess and immediately took a decision to remove them,” Bhattacharjee told reporters here. “I gave the direction to remove them as such a thing cannot go on. I cannot allow the Writers’ corridor to be the ground for opposition circus,” he said.
The Trinamool legislators, led by Chattopadhyay, protested against the “objectionable comments” of former Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Anil Basu at a public rally in Hooghly district’s Khanakul area Thursday evening. “Basu directed the police to arrest Trinamool supporters. If a former CPI-M Lok Sabha member can give such directives to the police, why will the police not arrest the chief minister, who is also the home minister of the state, responding to the demand of public and opposition parties?” Chattopadhyay asked.
“We want immediate action against Anil Basu for his comment as he is not part of the state administration. How come he gives instructions to the police, and the police obey him?” Chattopadhyay said, calling Bhattacharjee a “political joker”.
As the situation intensified, startled police officers rushed in reinforcements and a large number of heavily armed personnel of Kolkata Police were deployed before the chief minister’s chamber and the secretariat’s main gate to prevent any ugly turn of events. Kolkata Police Joint Commissioner (Headquarters) Jawed Shamim and Deputy Commissioner (Detective Department) Damayanti Sen also went to Writers’ Buildings to bring the situation under control.
In a bid to add more punch to the agitation, Mamata Banerjee spoke to a section of the electronic media and condemned the violence allegedly triggered by the CPI-M, and supported the demand for Bhattacharjee’s arrest. She threatened to launch a bigger agitation if her party legislators were arrested.
“The whole of West Bengal will be in flames if any of our leaders is touched by the police. Trinamool Congress activists will hit the streets in thousands if such thing happens,” she said, terming Bhattacharjee as a “leader of state-sponsored violence”.The tension soared as it got close to 4 p.m., the time when Bhattacharjee daily returns to the secretariat post-lunch. Later in the evening, top Trinamool leaders and legislators demonstrated at various points in the city and courted arrests. Traffic was thrown out of gear, inconveniencing commuters.
Condemning the act of the opposition legislators, state CPI(M) secretary Biman Basu said: “Trinamool Congress activists are creating nuisance across the state by holding road blockades and street corners. “We urge people to unitedly protest against this political vandalism of Trinamool Congress for the sake of maintaining law and order situation of the state,” Bose said in a statement.