The BJP on Tuesday, May 14, dealt a body blow to the idea and history of Bengal when a rampaging mob, part of party president Amit Shah’s Kolkata roadshow, ransacked the premise of the historical Vidyasagar College located in the heart of the iconic College Street, home to a series of pioneering educational institutions like Hindu School, Hare School, Presidency University (formerly Presidency College), Sanskrit College, University of Calcutta and possibly the world’s largest first and second hand books market. The mob, clad in saffron and carrying BJP flags, broke into the college, ransacked the college’s offices, set fire to motorcycles parked inside and broke the bust of revered Bengal Renaissance reformer Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
While the BJP has been quick to blame the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), there are live videos which clearly show they were BJP workers who were responsible for the almost sacrilegious act.
Kolkata Police checked videos and CCTV footage and arrested at least 60 ABVP, RSS and BJP activists from various city hotels last night and this morning, a source told National Herald. Another police source said hundreds more have been detained. Apparently, most of them are not residents of West Bengal and do not speak Bengali. They were brought to shore up the numbers in Amit Shah’s rally, said a police official.
Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a towering figure of the Bengal Renaissance in the early part of the 19th century along with Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Henry Louis Derozio and several others. He was instrumental in bringing education to the masses and along with John Drinkwater Bethune also opened up the avenues of education to women. He also got the then British Raj to legalise widow remarriage.
Vidyasagar also created the first authoritative textbook on Bengali alphabets that every child in Bengal has grown up with till date. A typical Bengali boy or girl grows up idolising Vidyasagar, Rammohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore and their likes. Essays are written in schools. They enjoy God-like status in the Bengali society. Bengali sentiments have been badly hit by this dastardly act. This is a mistake the BJP may have to pay a huge political price for in the long run.
What has all the more fuelled Bengali sentiments is that preliminary reports and video footage revealed that most people engaged in the vandalism were shouting instructions in Hindi and chanting Jai Shree Ram. There have been appeals from sane people in Kolkata and the rest of the state not to allow xenophobic polarisation to take roots.
Hundreds of protest rallies are taking place in West Bengal on May 15, Wednesday, and many more are planned.
Vidyasagar College, Kolkata, was the first private college in India which was run by the Indians, where the teachers were all Indians and it was financed by the Indians. The college was founded by Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar in 1872. It was formerly known as Metropolitan Institution.
A certain section of the Bengali society has raised pertinent questions as to why Kolkata Police which was deployed in large numbers did not prevent the mob from attacking the college. They think the AITC government might have knowingly allowed the violence to take place to reap political dividends in the last phase of the General Election.
It needs to be mentioned here that BJP workers have vandalised statues of Babasaheb Ambedkar in UP, Periyar in Tamil Nadu, poet Rabindranath Tagore in Assam and poet Sukanta Chaudhuri and Marxist leader Vladimir Lenin in Tripura.