Kolkata: As the Lok Sabha battle in West Bengal reaches the home stretch, Bengal Renaissance figure Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar has now become a poll issue following the vandalism of his statue during BJP President Amit Shah's roadshow here.
The desecration of the polymath's bust has caused severe resentment among a huge section of the Bengal society, where he is revered for his contribution to women's education, widow remarriage and various other social and educational reforms.
With nine remaining constituencies in Bengal set to go to polls in the seventh and final phase on Sunday, all major parties are going all out to make capital out of the incident that occurred during clash between activists of the ruling party's student wing, the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It all started with the TMCP members of Calcutta University positioning themselves outside its College Street gate to show black flags to Shah, who was leading a road show from Shahid Minar to Swami Vievekananda's house onn north Kolkata's Simla Street.
As the rallyists came close to the university, they tried to prevent the students from showing black flags to Shah by putting up giant cut-outs to block their view. Music was also played at a very high level so that the students' slogans against Shah ('Gali gali me shor hain, Amit Shah chor hai') became inaudible.
The TMCP activists alleged that water bottles, stones and bricks were pelted at them, resulting in a number of them getting injured. On the other hand, the BJP alleged that rallyists were attacked with stones and bricks, a version seconded by no other than Shah himself.
The clashes broke out after the rally passed the area, with the two groups fighting pitched battles with bricks, stones, iron rods and sticks.
The violence also spread to the nearby Vidyasagar College where also a large group of TMCP members had camped to protest against the road show.
Motorbikes were set ablaze, and the clashing groups flung chairs and guard rails on each other.
While the students alleged that BJP members vandalised the college, and also shattered Vidyasagar's bust, the BJP pointed fingers at Trinamool.
Addressing media in Delhi on Wednesday, Shah claimed there were three attacks targeting his road show, but the state police remained mere spectators. He also accused Banerjee of conspiring to vandalise Vidyasagar's statue in an effort to gain sympathy.
"The gate of the college was closed and the BJP workers were outside. Trinamool goons were pelting stones from inside. This was a conspiracy and drama by Mamata Banerjee to gain sympathy," he said, showing video clips and photos purportedly taken in the aftermath of the trouble to claim that the bust was unharmed till then.
In an angry outburst after the incident, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the BJP for trying to destroy Bengal's heritage.
"We are ashamed that Vidysagar's bust was vandalised. Do they (BJP) know who Vidyasagar was? I will not spare anyone if Bengal's heritage is destroyed," she said.
She first directed state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee to rush to the spot, and later went there herself.
Chatterjee also cited a video to buttress his point that the BJP members had broken open the gate. "Can they show that anyone is throwing stones from inside the gates? Just see the dresses the people are wearing in this video, everything will be clear."
Banerjee, accusing the BJP of bringing "miscreants" from other states for the road show, also announced an inquiry into the matter, while city Police Commissioner Rajesh Kumar said around 100 people had been rounded up.
On Banerjee's instruction, all Trinamool leaders made Vidyasagar's image their profile picture on all social media platforms - WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.
Trinamool leaders and intellectuals also brought out a protest march in north Kolkata, while the party took out protest rallies in Hooghly, Howrah, Bankura and West Burdwan districts.
Not to be left behind, the Left Front held a rally led by CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and Left Front Chairman Biman Bose from Vidyasagar Uddyan in central Kolkata's College Square to Azad Hind Bag near Hedua.
The Congress condemned the incident and said no party with a minimum sense of democracy could have caused such an incident. "Those who vandalised Vidyasagar's bust, can't be called political workers. This is yet another prove that the political culture of Bengal has been destroyed," said state Congress chief Somen Mitra.
Defending his party, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said: "The disturbance was the result of instigation."
However, a political analyst said the matter would have little impact on the final phase of polls.
"The political parties are making it an issue. But I think it will have a little impact on the voters. It might have impacted the intellectuals but Bengalis are rational and they will think logically before casting their votes," analyst Bimal Shankar Nanda told IANS.