Kolkata clashes spark Indian election row

KOLKATA (AFP) – Clashes between followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an opposition leader heightened tensions in the key Indian city of Kolkata yesterday ahead of the final round of the country’s hard-fought national election.

Fifty-nine people were arrested in street battles that forced Amit Shah, President of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to leave an election rally in the eastern metropolis under armed guard, police said.

A statue of renowned Bengal reformer, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, was destroyed and a college named after him ransacked in the troubles late on Tuesday, which the BJP and rival Trinamool Congress (TMC) angrily blamed on each other. West Bengal state has been hit by repeated violence between the two parties during the six-week-long election that ends on Sunday. Results will be announced on May 23.

Modi’s BJP hopes to capture many of the state’s 42 parliament seats from the TMC to compensate for losses predicted in other regions.

The BJP accused West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of orchestrating attacks on Shah’s roadshow. Government ministers joined a protest in Delhi which blamed Banerjee’s party.

“Has Bengal acquired a government of gangsters? The attack on Amit Shah’s peaceful rally by TMC is deplorable,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Twitter.

Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) take part in a silent protest rally in New Delhi, following clashes between BJP supporters and the opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Kolkata. – AFP