Dramatic scenes played out yesterday on the streets of Howrah and Kolkata when Bharatiya Janata Party supporters tried to march to the state secretariat. BJP leaders were detained, the police fired teargas and water cannons to dispel the protesters, a police vehicle was set on fire, and there were instances of stone pelting.
Local media, of course, was on the spot throughout.
It was “mayhem”, the Times of India said in its Kolkata edition, reporting that a reserved force assistant commissioner was hospitalised with a “fractured arm and a ruptured eye socket after BJP workers armed with uprooted pavement blocks, sticks and iron rods attacked him and other officers”.
Detailed coverage on page 2 pointed out that ambulances and commuters were stranded as parts of Howrah virtually shut down. Shopowners said they “couldn’t dare” to keep their shops open and reported losses as a result.
Leading English daily Telegraph shouted “Berserk Janata Party hits the town” on its front page.
“A group of stick-wielding men, some sporting saffron apparels and holding BJP flags, sprinkled a fluid on a police jeep and set it on fire, chased and beat up police, and vandalised roadside stalls...The group seemed to have been deployed to trigger violence, many veterans in Calcutta police suggested,” the page 1 story read.
The BJP had planned the protest against corruption in the Trinamool Congress government in the state. Telegraph said the “much hyped plan...went awry in the face of unprecedented police bandobast”, yet the BJP “put on a brave face and claimed the event a success”.
The Kolkata edition of the Statesman took a more diplomatic approach, headlining its page 1 story “Nabanna march: Pitched battles between BJP, cops”. It said the march “turned parts of Kolkata and Howrah into a veritable battle ground as party supporters fought pitched battles with police”.
Continued coverage on page 3 said BJP workers “allegedly pelted stones”, the police “lobbed teargas shells”, and several BJP workers were seen “writhing in pain on the road after being allegedly beaten up”.
Eastern Chronicle repeated the “battlefield” cry on the front page of its Kolkata edition this morning. It included a report on comments from BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, who accused chief minister Mamata Banerjee of “enforcing dictatorship similar to North Korea in Bengal”.
In the aftermath of the violence, the Calcutta High Court has sought a report from the West Bengal home secretary.
But how does the Bengali media generally report on political violence and political parties? Does it play favourites or find balance? to find out.