BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh was Monday pushed and heckled by alleged TMC supporters, prompting his security officer to whip out a pistol in Bhabanipur assembly constituency, where West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is in the fray, as political temperature rose on the last day of electioneering.
Ghosh demanded deferment of the September 30 by-poll till the situation has normalised, while the Election Commission sought a report from the state government on the incident.
BJP MP Arjun Singh faced "go back" slogans by ruling TMC workers while campaigning for party candidate Priyanka Tibrewal.
National TV channels showed Ghosh being pushed and heckled on a road as a posse of security guards tried to shield him. A suspected TMC supporter could be seen grabbing a securityman by the collar who swiftly pulled out a pistol to scare away the crowd.
The incident occurred when Ghosh had gone inside a vaccination camp in Jodubabur Bazaar area in the constituency, where by-poll will be held on September 30. TMC supporters present at the spot shouted slogans demanding that he leave, alleging that he was campaigning at a state-run vaccination programme which was not permitted.
Ghosh, who was whisked away by his security guards, later alleged TMC supporters "attacked" him without provocation and injured a BJP activist. "We will take up the issue with the Election Commission. What kind of election this is?" he asked.
Ghosh, who was recently removed as the state BJP chief and appointed the party's national vice president, later addressed a press conference where he demanded postponement of the by-poll in Bhabanipur.
"The law and order situation in the area is not conducive to holding by-poll. If an MP can be attacked, then imagine the situation common voters are facing. I demand postponement of polling till the situation normalises in Bhabanipur...till the time its conducive for holding a free and fair election," he said.
Ghosh claimed there was threat to his life and defended the action of his security officers. "Had they not done this, I would have been killed. My security personnel ensured I could board the car and leave the place safely," he said.
Reacting to Ghosh's demand for postponement of the by-poll, senior TMC leader Tapas Roy said the BJP leader is desperate to score some political brownie points after being "shunted out" as the state party president.
"His party should first remove him from the list of star campaigners and then talk about the postponement of by-poll. It seems that he is desperate to score some brownie points following his unceremonious removal as state president," Roy said.
The Congress, which has decided against contesting and campaigning in the by-poll, hit out against the TMC over the incident.
"Is this a sign of healthy democracy that leaders of opposition parties are attacked in such a manner? This is shameful. The EC must ensure free and fair polls," state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, said.
Sources in the office of the state's chief electoral officer said the Election Commission had sought a report from the state government by 4 pm. It was not yet known if the state had sent its report to the poll panel or contents thereof.
Arjun Singh, who is in charge of the BJP campaign in the constituency, faced "go back" slogans and called 'bohiragato' (outsider), as he went around the area soliciting votes. Singh, a multiple-term former TMC MLA, now represents Barrackpore constituency in the Lok Sabha.
Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Suvendu Adhikari, Mamata Banerjee's nemesis in Nandigram, demanded that the Election Commission take action against those responsible for the incident. "The situation here is 'nazuk' (fragile). But BJP workers will fight till their last breath and not quit," he said.
Senior TMC leader and MLA Madan Mitra said everybody has the right to campaign door-to-door in the constituency but not to threaten people with a weapon. "It's not Godhra or Bhatpara, it's Bhabanipur. BJP will get a befitting reply for its actions on September 30," he said.
Arjun Singh accused the state administration and police of doing nothing even when MPs and national level BJP leaders were attacked.
TMC leader Firhad Hakim, a minister, accused the BJP of provoking the people to create disturbance in the peaceful middle class neighbourhood.
"BJP is resorting to provocation sensing defeat. It is better to ignore them. Common people are protesting against them for spreading hatred, falsehood and indulging in personal attacks," Hakim said.
In a tweet, the TMC alleged that Ghosh's bodyguard had brandished firearms to scare away the people.
"@BJP4Bengal HITS A NEW LOW! How DARE a gun be aimed at (the) public in broad daylight? Do people not have the right to protest against leaders they do not support? Such blatant violation of human rights is shameful! This compromises the safety and security of people in Bhabanipur!" the party tweeted.