Violence erupted during Nabanna Abhijan, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s protest march to West Bengal state secretariat ‘Nabanna‘ on September 13 as police in various parts of Kolkata and the adjoining Howrah district tried to stop the march. The protest rally was launched at a time when a number of Trinamool Congress leaders, state ministers and government officials are facing probes by central agencies over allegations of corruption. In July end, Rs 50 crore in cash and jewellery was recovered from the apartment of a ‘close aide’ of former education and industries minister Partha Chatterjee accused in the School Service Commission scam.
Parts of Kolkata and Howrah resembled a battlefield in the late afternoon of September 13 as the protesters clashed with police. The cops used water cannons and tear gas and resorted to lathi-charge as BJP leaders and members tried to break barricades put up by police. TV coverage of the march showed a police jeep engulfed in fire at Chittpore crossing in central Kolkata. A few metres from the spot, an assistant commissioner of Kolkata police, Debjit Chatterjee, was allegedly assaulted by BJP members carrying party flags, with rods and sticks.
In the backdrop of this, a video of a group of people (one of them wearing a skullcap) pelting objects into the distance went viral on Twitter with the claim that Trinamool Congress party workers were pelting stones at police during the rally.
Amit Malviya, in-charge of BJP’s national information & technology department, tweeted a 23-second clip from news channel Aaj Tak’s coverage of the rally, where the skull-capped man was circled out in red, and captioned it: “Mamata Banerjee sent TMC cadres to pelt stones at the police so that later BJP could be blamed for it…”. In the video, the reporter says, “Look at how the demonstrators are pelting stones. The police vehicle that you see on screen was torched by the demonstrators”. There is an apparent insinuation that the people seen on the screen are the ones who set the car on fire. (Archive)
Mamata Banerjee sent TMC cadres to pelt stones at the police so that later BJP could be blamed for it… pic.twitter.com/SkUBecr042
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) September 13, 2022
Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, national secretary of Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, also tweeted this video with the same claim. (Archive)
Mamata Banerjee sent TMC cadres to pelt stones at the police so that later BJP could be blamed for it… pic.twitter.com/DAuccQUM4G
— Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) September 13, 2022
Debasree Chaudhuri, BJP leader and former union minister of state for women and child development, made the same claim while tweeting the clip. (Archive)
— Debasree Chaudhuri (@DebasreeBJP) September 13, 2022
Deepti Rawat Bhardwaj, national general secretary of BJP Mahila Morcha, did the same. (Archive)
— Deepti Rawat Bhardwaj (@deeptirawatbjp) September 14, 2022
None of the above persons explained what made them identify the circled man as a Trinamool cadre.
During India Today’s primetime show on September 13, host Rajdeep Sardesai asked Shehzad Poonawalla, BJP’s national spokesperson, who was responsible for the vandalism of public property. Referring to the skull-capped man in the viral clip, Poonawalla says “…if you look at it frame by frame, it doesn’t look like a BJP karyakarta at all. Look at who is pelting the stone”, insinuating that the people seen in the video were TMC workers. He further suggested that the Trinamool Congress sent its workers to vandalise and torch the police vehicle as well. (The conversation can be heard from the 0.35-minute mark onward in the following video.)
News 18 India reported Amit Malviya’s allegations. At 8:40 in the video below, Amit Malviya’s allegations of TMC party workers inciting violence during the rally were aired.
Amit Malviya’s allegations were also highlighted by Times Now while airing the viral clip.
Aaj Tak repeatedly aired the clip where the skull-capped man can be seen throwing something into the distance and dubbed it a “TMC vs BJP” war (4:48 in the video below), insinuating that the people seen in the video are TMC workers.
Alt News closely observed Republic Bangla’s live coverage of the Nabanna Abhijan rally.
In the beginning of a 17-minute clip uploaded by them on YouTube, a few men can be seen vandalising the police vehicle (PCR 10) using bricks, helmets and sticks while a man waves a BJP flag in front of it. For the convenience of the reader, Alt News has taken the liberty to add the relevant clips from live coverage of the incident wherever it was needed.
At the 6:47-minute mark, the ground reporter standing right next to the police jeep can be heard saying, “The police vehicle has been set on fire by frenzied BJP workers and supporters”. Some other BJP workers tried to douse the fire at the same time, but in vain, he added.
Then at 12:21 in the video, the ground reporters state that the crowd has gone berserk again. A few seconds later, the male reporter says that the local businessmen have started to retaliate against the BJP workers and they are throwing stones back at the BJP workers. At this point, the skull-capped man can be seen behind him at the 12:53-minute mark in the video. According to the Republic Bangla reporter, the local shop owners were trying to chase the BJP workers away in order to save their business establishments.
Below we have compared stills from the viral video and Republic Bangla’s live coverage.
At 13.35 in the video, the skull-capped man can be seen hurriedly shoving some gunny bags inside a shop right next to the burning police car (image below). At 13.58 the reporter says that paranoid shopkeepers are trying to save their stuff and putting them inside a shop. The man can still be seen on the screen.
To find out what actually transpired on the day, Alt News went on the ground where the viral footage had been shot and spoke to locals. The police vehicle was set afire in front of a row of shops, barely 50 metres from the Mahatma Gandhi Road-Rabindra Sarani junction also known as Chittpore crossing. The Royal Indian Hotel, famous for its biriyani, is a few steps down the way. The man shown in the viral image is apparently throwing a stone towards the crossing through which the march was supposed to move westward.
Alt News spoke to five shop owners, all of whom denied the presence of any TMC cadre on the day of the march. When the clip of the man in a skullcap throwing an object was shown to them, they first identified him as ‘a local guy’. On pressing further, they said he was a ‘local shop assistant’, but they refused to give further details about the man.
The Republic Bangla coverage and the clip of him moving some gunny bags away from the spot of the fire into a shop lends credibility to this claim.
Two of the local businessmen, Munna Bhai and Sheikh Shahjahan (pictures above), agreed to speak to Alt News on record. Shahjahan was among the local shop owners who rescued the injured ACP from the marauding protesters and took him inside Munna bhai’s footwear shop.
“There were no TMC men in the area on that day. Our shutters were down, but we were in the vicinity. The BJP march was supposed to pass through the M G Road. But the protesters chased policemen and entered Rabindra Sarani. They targeted the cops who were easily outnumbered. When the jeep was set ablaze, we feared for our shops and gathered the courage to retaliate. It was us who pushed back the protesters,” Munna Bhai told Alt News.
Looking at the viral footage of stone pelting, he identified the man as a local shop-keeper.
This Times of India report corroborates Munna Bhai’s point that the protesters’ foray into the Rabindra Sarani was sudden and unplanned.
Shahjahan said, “The jeep was torched at 2.56 pm. The police officer was attacked around 3.12. We panicked thinking that the fire may spread to our shops. Then we assembled here and shouted at the BJP protesters. That is when they stepped back.”
When shown the footage separately, he said, “He is a local man. The stone he picked up was thrown by the protesters. A number of shop owners did the same (that is, picked up stones and hurled them back at the protesters) to save their business establishments,” he added, before narrating to these correspondents how they barely saved the police officer from getting killed.
This report in The Indian Express corroborates Shahjahan’s point that BJP supporters threw stones at the cops.
The live reportage of Republic Bangla and Alt News’s conversation with locals and eye witnesses contradict the claim made by several BJP leaders including Amit Malviya that Trinamool Congress cadres were seen pelting stones at cops. On the contrary, the people throwing stones were actually trying to chase away protesters who had set the PCR van on fire.
This is not the first time Amit Malviya has put out false information through social media. Alt News has in the past debunked several of his misleading/false claims. Readers can find related reports here, here and here.
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