Are ‘TMC cadres’ seen throwing rocks at cops in video shared by BJP leaders after Nabanna march?

Violence erupted during Nabanna Abhijan, the protest march of the Bharatiya Janata Party towards the West Bengal State Secretariat “Nabanna” on September 13, as police from various parts of Kolkata and the neighboring district of Howrah attempted to stop walking. The protest rally was launched at a time when a number of Trinamool Congressional leaders, state ministers and government officials are under investigation by central agencies over allegations of corruption. In late July, Rs 50 crore in cash and jewelery was recovered from the flat of a ‘close associate’ of former education and industry minister Partha Chatterjee, who was accused in the scam of the School Services Commission.

Parts of Kolkata and Howrah looked like a battlefield in the late afternoon of September 13 as protesters clashed with police. Cops used water cannons and tear gas and resorted to charging lathi as BJP leaders and members tried to break down barricades erected by police. TV coverage of the march showed a police jeep engulfed in fire at the Chittpore Junction in central Kolkata. A few meters from the spot, a Kolkata Police Deputy Commissioner, Debjit Chatterjee, was allegedly assaulted by BJP members carrying party flags, with rods and sticks.

Against this backdrop, a video of a group of people (one of them wearing a skullcap) throwing objects away has gone viral on Twitter with the claim that Trinamool Congress party workers were throwing rocks at the police during the rally.

Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s national information and technology department, tweeted a 23-second clip of Aaj Tak news channel’s coverage of the rally, where the man with the skull and crossbones was surrounded red, and captioned it: “Mamata Banerjee sent TMC frames to throw stones at the police so that later the BJP can be blamed for this…”. In the video, the reporter says, “Look how the protesters are throwing stones. The police vehicle you see on the screen was set on fire by the demonstrators”. There is an apparent insinuation that the people seen on screen are the ones who set the car on fire. (Archive)

Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, National Secretary of Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, also tweeted this video with the same claim. (Archive)

Debasree Chaudhuri, BJP leader and former Labor Minister of State for Women and Child Development, made the same claim while tweeting the clip. (Archive)

Deepti Rawat Bhardwaj, National General Secretary of BJP Mahila Morcha, did the same. (Archive)

None of the people above have explained what led them to identify the circled man as a Trinamool executive.

On India Today’s primetime show on September 13, host Rajdeep Sardesai asked BJP national spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla 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 who is throwing the stone,” insinuating that the people seen in the video were TMC workers. He further suggested that Trinamool Congress also sent its workers to vandalize and set fire to the police vehicle. (The conversation can be heard from 0.35 minutes in the following video.)

News 18 India reported Amit Malviya’s allegations. At 8:40 a.m. in the video below, Amit Malviya’s allegations that TMC party workers incited violence during the rally were released.

Amit Malviya’s allegations were also highlighted by Times Now when the viral clip aired.

Aaj Tak repeatedly played the clip where the skull-capped man can be seen throwing something away and dubbed it a “TMC vs BJP” war (4:48 in the video below). below), implying that the people seen in the video are TMC workers.

Fact check

Alt News closely observed Republic Bangla’s live coverage of Nabanna Abhijan’s rally.

At the start of a 17-minute clip uploaded by them to YouTube, a few men can be seen vandalizing the police vehicle (PCR 10) using bricks, helmets and sticks while a man waves a flag of the BJP in front of him. For the reader’s convenience, Alt News has taken the liberty of adding relevant clips from live coverage of the incident wherever necessary.

At minute 6:47, the reporter on the ground standing right next to the police jeep can be heard saying, “The police vehicle has been set on fire by frantic BJP workers and supporters.” Other BJP workers tried to put out the fire at the same time, but to no avail, he added.

Then at 12:21 in the video, reporters on the ground say the crowd has gone mad again. Seconds later, the reporter says that local businessmen have started retaliating against BJP workers and throwing stones at them. That much, the man with the skull and crossbones can be seen behind him at 12:53 in the video. According to the Republic Bangla reporter, local traders were trying to drive out BJP workers in order to save their business establishments.

Below we have compared the stills from the viral video and the Republic Bangla live coverage.

At 1:35 p.m. in the video, the man with the skull and crossbones can be seen hastily stuffing burlap sacks into a store right next to the burning police cruiser (image below). At 1:58 p.m., the reporter says paranoid shopkeepers are trying to salvage their belongings and put them in a store. The man is still visible on screen.

To find out what really happened that day, Alt News went to the land where the viral footage was shot and spoke to locals. The police vehicle was set on fire outside a row of shops, just 50 meters from the Mahatma Gandhi Road-Rabindra Sarani Junction also known as the Chittpore Junction. The Royal Indian Hotel, famous for its biriyani, is a short walk away. The man shown in the viral image apparently throws a stone towards the passage through which the march was supposed to move west.

Munna Bhai, who has run an on-site shoe store for 30 years, spoke to Alt News. Photo: Faiyaz Hawawala

Sk. Shahjahan, who runs a clothing store, was among those who took care of the injured policeman. Photo: Faiyaz Hawawala

Alt News spoke to five store owners, all of whom denied that any TMC executives were present on the day of the march. When the clip of the man in the skullcap throwing an object was shown to them, they initially identified him as “a local guy.” Pushing further, they said he was a “local seller”, but they declined to give any further details about the man.

The cover of Republic Bangla and the clip of him moving burlap sacks away from the scene of the fire in a store lend credence to this claim.

Two of the local businessmen, Munna Bhai and Sheikh Shahjahan (pictured above), agreed to speak publicly to Alt News. Shahjahan was among the local shop owners who rescued the injured ACP from the marauding protesters and took him inside Munna bhai’s shoe shop.

“There were no TMC men in the area that day. Our shutters were down, but we were close. The BJP march was supposed to pass through the MG road. But the demonstrators chased the police and entered Rabindra Sarani. They targeted cops who were easily outnumbered. When the jeep was set on fire, we feared for our stores and found the courage to fight back. It was us who pushed back the protesters,” Munna Bhai told Alt News.

Looking at the viral stone-throwing footage, he identified the man as a local trader.

This Times of India report supports Munna Bhai’s argument that the protesters’ incursion into the Rabindra Sarani was sudden and unplanned.

Shahjahan said: “The jeep was set on fire at 2.56 p.m. The policeman was assaulted around 3.12 p.m. We panicked thinking the fire might spread to our stores. Then we gathered here and shouted at the BJP protesters. That’s when they backed off.

When shown the footage separately, he said, “He’s a local guy. The rock he picked up was thrown by protesters. A number of traders did the same (i.e. picked up rocks and threw them back at protesters) to save their business establishments,” he added, before telling these correspondents how they barely stopped the policeman from getting killed.

This report in The Indian Express corroborates Shahjahan’s point that BJP supporters threw stones at cops.

Live reporting of Republic Bangla and Alt News’ conversation with locals and eyewitnesses contradicts the claim by several BJP leaders, including Amit Malviya, that Trinamool Congress executives were seen throwing stones on cops. On the contrary, the people throwing stones were in fact trying to drive away the demonstrators who had set fire to the PCR van.

This is not the first time that Amit Malviya has spread false information on social networks. Alt News has in the past debunked many of its misleading/false claims. Readers can find related reports here, here and here.

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