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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today (Thursday, May 16) said his government would build a “grand statue” of Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar at the Vidyasagar College in Kolkata, where an existing bust of the social reformer was vandalised in clashes between BJP and Trinamool Congress workers during BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in the city two days ago, sparking off anger and mutual blame game between the two parties.

Vidyasagar is among Bengal’s tallest cultural icons, and a key figure in the Bengal Renaissance. He fought for remarriage of widows and abolition of Sati and initiated pathbreaking reform in traditional upper caste Hindu society.

Modi, speaking at a rally in Mau, Uttar Pradesh, this morning, Modi said, “Our government, dedicated to the vision of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, will set up a grand statue of panchdhatu (five metals) at the same spot.”

Accusing the TMC of breaking the statue, Modi said those responsible should be punished.

TMC leader Derek O’Brien responded to Modi’s proposal, calling him a “pathological liar”.

In the video footage of the incident, one clip shows a group of youths, some wearing saffron shirts and at least one sporting a saffron turban, vandalising a bust of Vidyasagar outside the Vidyasagar College hostel, reported The Indian Express (IE).

Another clip shows a separate group inside the campus hurling large stones across the wall at men wearing saffron shirts and turbans, carrying BJP flags.

Meanwhile, TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister has claimed that “Bengal is under attack” from outsiders brought in by the BJP, and called the episode a “planned criminal and communal conspiracy”.

Amid the war of words, the Election Commission yesterday, in an unprecedented decision, invoked Article 324 of the Constitution to curtail election campaigning in West Bengal by 20 hours. The poll body cited the “safety and security” of voters in the state while announcing that campaigning in all forms would end at 10 pm on Thursday in nine constituencies — Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, South and North Kolkata. These go to polls in the last phase of the Lok Sabha polls on Sunday, May 19.

The decision has invited criticism, with many questioning the time, ‘from 10 pm’ instead of immediately if the situation was so bad, asking if it was done only to allow PM Modi’s two rallies scheduled in Bengal.

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CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury tweeted: “If a ban is intended for 72 hours, why is it starting at 10pm tomorrow? Is it to allow the two rallies of the PM before that?”

The EC’s decision to curtail campaigning in West Bengal was reportedly based on the report submitted by Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, who took stock of the poll preparedness Monday, and another submitted jointly by special observers Ajay Nayak and Vivek Dubey.

Jain, in his report, had informed the Election Commissioners of a “distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police” in providing a “level-playing field to all candidates for campaigning” and “a fearless threat free environment to the voters”.

“The Observers pointed out that while on the surface, everything looks fine, but in their frank interactions with the public the fear psychosis that is widely prevalent comes out. They pointed out that utterances of the AITC (All India Trinamool Congress) senior leaders on the lines of ‘Central Forces will leave after the elections while we will remain’ sends a chilling message among the officers as well as voters alike,” he wrote in his report submitted to the EC.

Citing incidents of violence being reported in the state, the EC order states, “…these campaign related violent incidents are creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred in the polling areas which is affecting the overall electoral environment…”

Asked about the logic behind the EC’s decision to end campaigning at 10 pm Thursday, a senior EC official told The Indian Express, “We did not want to disrupt campaigning when it is at its peak. Moreover, this gives all political parties a chance to demonstrate their commitment to peaceful campaigning.” “The 10 pm deadline was kept keeping the Supreme Court order on the use of loudspeakers,” another senior EC official said.

Reacting to the EC’s decision, Union Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted, “A constitutional authority, the Election Commission of India, has effectively held Bengal to be a state in Anarchy…A free campaign is not possible and therefore the campaign has to be cut short. This is a classical case of breakdown of the Constitutional Machinery.”

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