Kolkata: “The 12-hour bandh in West Bengal on Wednesday was called off around 4.15 pm, about two hours ahead of schedule, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) calling the shutdown a “complete success". It however led to the death of one person at Keshiari at Paschim Midnapore district. The strike was called by the BJP to protest against the killing of two students in North Dinajpur district on 20 September, allegedly in police firing."
People of the state voluntarily supported the strike, claimed the BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh. “We do not support strike in principle, but we had to call it under extraordinary circumstances," he said while describing the bandh as peaceful. “Trinamool Congress has claimed that the deceased was their supporter alleging that BJP goons were behind this incident. The ruling party alleged that this person was shot dead because he had opened his shop in spite of the strike. The district BJP leadership has denied the allegations."
The police, however, said bandh supporters clashed with the administration across the state. The administration made at least 1,600 “preventive detentions" and 50 “specific arrests", said additional director general of police Anuj Sharma. At least three buses were vandalised and several police personnel attacked, he added.
Months ahead of the 2019 general elections, the BJP is trying to make the most of a skirmish at school in Islampur in North Dinajpur last week in which two students were shot dead. Students of the Daribhit High School and local residents of Islampur clashed with the police over recruitment of teachers.
Two assistant teachers—one for Urdu and the other for Sanskrit—were to be taken on payrolls but their appointment was stalled on 18 September due to protests. The students and local residents said teachers for Urdu and Sanskrit were no longer required at the school. They said the school needed teachers for other subjects.
However, two days later, the school authorities with the help of the local police tried to complete the joining formalities of the two teachers. It led to protests and, in turn, to a clash in which Rajesh Sarkar and Tapas Barman were killed. The BJP claimed they were activists of its students’ wing.
It isn’t immediately clear who fired at the students but the two died of bullet injuries. The police have denied opening fire and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is currently in Europe, has blamed the BJP and related organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for stirring the unrest.
North Dinajpur has a substantial Muslim population. Even so, the RSS and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) claim to have made significant inroads in the district. According to Anup Mondal, a spokesperson, the VHP has around 200 local units in and around Islampur alone. “We have earned the trust of the local Hindus," he said.
The BJP’s Ghosh has described the move to hire teachers for Urdu as “minority appeasement", while the party’s students’ wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) claimed in a statement that the teacher for Sanskrit didn’t join the Islampur school at all in view of protests from teachers and parents.
The BJP has demanded a probe into the killings by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Faced with protests, local legislators of the Trinamool Congress, Kanaiyalal Agarwal and Mohammad Gulam Rabbani, have said that they, too, would ask the administration for an independent inquiry.
Railway services were disrupted at multiple points by bandh supporters. The Indian Railways were forced to cancel 46 pairs of trains in the Sealdaha sub-division.