Kolkata: Violence and arson marked protests in different parts of West Bengal’s Howrah district, where roads and railway tracks were blocked for hours over controversial remarks made by two suspended BJP functionaries against Prophet Mohammad, police said.
As a precautionary measure, the state government has suspended internet services in the entire district till 6 am on Monday.
The situation is presently under control as the police managed to lift the blockade at Howrah’s Salap and Uluberia areas, officials said.
Since morning, protesters clashed with police personnel at Dhulagarh, Panchla and Uluberia when they tried to end the blockade on a national highway stretch, a senior police officer said.
Police had to baton-charge to disperse the crowd at Dhulagarh and Panchla, where the demonstrators pelted stones in retaliation, causing damage to nearby cars. They placed burning tyres on the road at Panchla and Dhulagarh and set a police kiosk on fire in Uluberia, he said.
A few local BJP party offices were ransacked and burnt, too, police said.
“The two saffron party leaders should be immediately arrested for their remarks that have hurt religious sentiments,” one of the protesters said.
“The situation is now under control. We have made several arrests. There have been reports of injuries and damage to property, arson and violence. We have started an investigation,” he said.
A huge police contingent has also been stationed in the area.
A South Eastern Railway official said agitators had blocked railway tracks at Chengail, Fuleswar and Santragachi stations in the Howrah-Kharagpur section from 1.22 pm.
The agitation was withdrawn around 8.20 pm and train services will be restored gradually, he said.
A total of six trains were cancelled on Friday, while another four trains will be cancelled on Saturday, the SER official added.
Similar protests had taken place on Thursday, with agitators disrupting traffic at Ankurhati in Howrah district for almost 11 hours.
Meanwhile, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has appealed for peace and sought an urgent update on the law and order situation from the state’s chief secretary.
In a communication to the chief secretary, a copy of which was attached to his Twitter post, Dhankhar also said preventive and precautionary measures expected to be taken after Thursday’s incident in Howrah were not reflected on the ground.
The ruling TMC was quick to react, advising the Raj Bhavan occupant to seek the arrest of the BJP leaders, who had made the controversial remarks.
“Instead of issuing sermons, the governor should demand the arrest of the BJP leaders, if he is so concerned about the situation,” Bengal minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim said.
A petition was also filed in the Calcutta High Court on Friday evening, seeking deployment of paramilitary forces or the Army in Howrah district.
Lawyer Susmita Saha Dutta said she prayed for the constitution of a special bench to hear the matter urgently.
It was also prayed that if necessary, the NIA (National Investigation Agency) be directed to probe whether anti-national forces are acting to disrupt peace in the affected places.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had on Thursday condemned the remarks by the two suspended BJP functionaries, and asked demonstrators to call off their stir and protest in New Delhi and BJP-ruled states instead.
Earlier senior TMC leader and MLA Tapas Ray had accused the saffron party of destroying the country’s secular fabric.
The BJP, however, criticised the Trinamool Congress for its “failure” to maintain the law and order situation in the state.
“An important stretch of road was blocked for more than 11 hours, and the police are mute spectators. Today also, there are reports of protests in various parts of the state, but the police have taken no action. The law and order situation has gone for a toss.”
“If the BJP takes out a protest rally, our workers are beaten up and arrested, but in this case, no action has been taken,” Senior BJP leader and chief whip in the state assembly Manoj Tigga said.
Bengal Imams Association president Md Yahia said it had called for protests inside mosques across the state, demanding the arrest of the two BJP leaders, but asserted that the administration is free to take action against people who are blocking roads and inconveniencing the public.
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