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Unprecedented vandalism in Kolkata, army called in
The heart of Kolkata erupted in violence following a chakka jam call by the All India Minority Forum against the Nandigram violence and demanding that Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen be expelled. The army was called in the city after 15 years.
MINDLESS ANGER and an orgy of violence hit central Kolkata in waves for nearly seven hours on Wednesday with hooligans taking on the police and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) burning cars and buses, looting shops and pelting stones. A chakka jam call given by the All India Minority Forum (AIMF) protesting against the Nandigram violence and demanding that the visa of controversial Bangladesh authoress Taslima Nasreen be revoked and she be thrown out of the country, snowballed out of control. The issue of Tasmila’s expulsion overtook the Nandigram factor with posters being held aloft saying “Taslima go back”. The Army had to be called into stage a flag march after hours of unabated violence which centred and also spread to a potentially volatile areas taking on communal overtones.
 
The AIMF, a relatively small player, which has been into sporadic demands for the expulsion of Taslima Nasreen, who has been living in Kolkata, after obscurantist and fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh issued a fatwa against her, in all likelihood decided to fish in troubles waters after the Nandigram issue came to the fore.
 
Trouble broke out when a large group of people put up strategic road blocks at the crossing of Ripon Street with AJC Bose Road and the Park Circus-EM Bypass junction holding up and cutting off vehicular traffic between North and South Kolkata. The police asked the protesters, ostensibly members of the AIMF, to lift the blockade. Arguments ensued and the 14 or 15 police personnel present were attacked. Stones were hurled at them and a police van was set on fire.  The officers-in-charge of the Muchipara and Entally police stations were inured along with several policemen and protesters.
 
The AIMF chakka jam was meant to last for three hours from 8 am to 11 am. With more and people in the neighbourhood joining in the assault on the police, reinforcements were rushed in. Protesters armed with lathis, some with swords and many with soda water bottles took on the police and the RAF. The police fired tear gas shells to no effect. A lathi charge failed to quell the mob which grew as the hours passed. The vandalism was unbelievable. Apprehensive of opening fire after the severe indictment by the Calcutta High Court over the Nandigram firing, where 14 people were killed, the police and the RAF were on a retreating mode. On the part of the police it was a massive intelligence failure.
 
More and more local people joined in and the situation snowballed out of hand. Cars and buses were set on fire. Six cars were burnt into empty black shells and 30 buses were severely damaged. Shops were also looted.
 
With the area having at least six schools, children, school authorities and parents panicked. The schools shut their gates and the police tried to help evacuate them in school buses which were also stopped by the protesters.
 
With the situation getting worse by the hour, the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee went into a huddle with the state’s chief secretary, the home secretary and the director general of police. The government decided to call in the army from the Easter Command Headquarters in Kolkata to control a situation which was taking on communal overtones. It took the army over two hours to come out of the barracks and stage a flag march in the troubled and sensitive areas. Six columns of army personnel were pressed into service even as the city seethed. The government is toying with the idea of imposing curfew.
 
Till the time of filing this report, despite the flag march being staged by the army, trouble continued in several pockets. Soldiers fanned out to as far as Topsia in East Kolkata.
 
Earlier, the state home secretary without mentioning names said at Writers Buildings that the violence was engineered and it was not a popular uprising. In the evening he said that the administration was trying to bring the situation under control.
 
Till late in the evening school children were unable to go back home.
 
All opposition and political parties and the ruling parties called for peace.

Much of the blame for the day’s violence needs to be shouldered by Idris Ali, the Chairman of the AIMF, who also belongs to the Sate Congress. Media reports said he started something he could not control. Ali was clearly on the back foot when television channels zeroed in on him

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