Anti-citizenship law protests snowballed into a major flashpoint in West Bengal on Monday with highways and railway lines blocked and incidents of arson and loot reported from many places, as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared CAA and NRC can be enforced in the state only on her "dead body".
Assam, the gateway to the northeast, where the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which has been signed into law by the President, first ignited public fury, is largely calm with curfew relaxed and people going about their lives almost normally.
Some protesters and their leaders were detained in Guwahati and later released, while internet services were suspended for another 24 hours to prevent “misuse” of social media to disturb peace, officials said.
As protests erupted in several places including state capital Kolkata, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee led a 4-km march against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), and dared the Centre to dismiss her government, ignoring Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s disapproval.
Banerjee, the only chief minister to have gone the whole hog against the new citizenship law by protesting on the streets of Kolkata, vowed to block the implementation of CCA and the proposed NRC, and blamed “some powers from outside” the state for unabated vandalism.
The TMC supremo, who led the rally from Red Road to Jorasanko Thakur Bari, the ancestral house of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in north Kolkata, was joined by thousands of supporters with placards like “No CAA” and “No NRC”.
“There are some forces from outside the state, who are acting as friends of minorities and have indulged in this violence. These forces are stooges of the BJP, don’t fall into their trap,” Banerjee said, in an apparent reference to Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM with whom she got into a war of words recently.
“As long as I am alive, I will never implement the citizenship law or NRC in the state. You can very well dismiss my government or put me behind bars but I will never implement this black law. We will continue to protest democratically till this law is scrapped. If they want to implement it in Bengal, they will have to do it over my dead body,” she said.
Governor Dhankhar, who had tried to dissuade her from going ahead with the protest, saying it would be “unconstitutional and inflammatory”, asked her to personally brief him on the situation tomorrow, after the state’s chief secretary and DGP defied his instructions and did not turn up for a briefing. Dhankhar had summoned the two top officials on Sunday.
“@MamataOfficial. In view of enormity of situation I have called upon Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to personally update me at Raj Bhawan tomorrow at a time of her choice. There is no response from Chief Secretary and DGP thus far.
This is unfortunate and unexpected of them,” Dhankhar wrote.
The feisty Bengal chief minister is scheduled to hold similar rallies on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Calcutta High Court has directed the state government to file a report by Wednesday on the action taken to restore law and order in the state amid widespread violence.
A division bench of Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan and Justice H Bhattacharyya gave the direction on a petition by a resident of Howrah, where several incidents of vandalism and arson have occurred over the last few days.
Internet services continued to remain suspended in six districts of the state—Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and parts of South 24 Parganas districts—where violent protests over the amended Act have thrown normal life into disarray.
Incidents of violence, loot and arson were also reported from Nadia and Birbhum districts.
Agitators have blocked thoroughfares, setting fire to tyres, staged sit-ins on highways in several districts of the state, including Murshidabad and East Midnapore, inconveniencing thousands of commuters.
In Kolkata, BJP workers staged a demonstration at the busy Sulekha crossing and engaged in heated arguments with police. There was a skirmish between police and BJP supporters, who tried to pull down barricades erected to stop their rally. Nobody was reported injured or detained.
Several trains have been cancelled or delayed due to the ongoing protests.
A spokesperson for the railways said demonstrators have blocked the tracks on Sealdah-Diamond Harbour and Sealdah- Namkhana sections.
Trains between West Bengal and the Northeast have come to a complete halt with the Eastern Railway suspending all its services to the northern region of the state, officials said on Monday.
Eastern Railway (ER) spokesperson Nikhil Chakraborty said no train was running beyond Malda.
Officials said all trains originating from Howrah, Sealdah and Kolkata stations and headed for north Bengal have been suspended till further notice keeping in mind the safety and security of passengers.
The law and order situation, however, improved in Assam, with the administration relaxing curfew from 6 am to 9 pm in Guwahati. Night curfew in Guwahati, however, will continue to be in force, a senior police officer said.
“The situation having improved considerably, the day curfew is being withdrawn from Guwahati from 6AM of December 16th. Night curfew would remain from 9 PM till 6 AM next day,” Assam’s Additional DGP (law and order) G P Singh tweeted.
In Dibrugarh district, where curfew has been eased between 6 am to 8 pm, the administration has warned people against holding protest meets without permission beyond 3 pm.
AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya and general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi were taken into police custody with more than a hundred protesters during a rally in Guwahati. They were later let off.
Assam’s influential minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the situation was returning to normalcy and soon the curfew will be lifted and internet services restored.
Police has registered 136 cases and arrested 190 people in connection with the violence that rocked the state last week. He said efforts were on to lift restrictions so that educational institutions could be opened.