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'No Stay, Arrest Shahjahan,' Says Calcutta HC; Sandeshkhali Remains on the Boil

TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee's nephew and Lok Sabha member of parliament Abhishek Banerjee had earlier said that police could not arrest Shahjahan because of a stay on his arrest by the courts.
A fire at a local TMC leader's house at Bermajur village in Sandeshkhali. Photo: By arrangement.

Kolkata: The unrest at Sandeshkhali reached the Calcutta high court on February 26, with a division bench led by Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam noting that there is no stay on the arrest of absconding Trinamool Congress leader – North 24-Parganas zilla parishad’s Sheikh Shahjahan.

“Arrest him. Complaints were made as many as four years ago, why was he not arrested?” asked the bench, which also comprised Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharya.

The court, which has taken suo motu cognisance of the allegations of systemic sexual harassment and intimidation at Sandeshkhali by Trinamool Congress leaders, clarified that there was no stay on the arrest of Shahjahan.

TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha member of parliament Abhishek Banerjee had earlier said that police could not arrest Shahjahan because of a stay on his arrest by the courts. From various quarters, allegations had been coming in that the police were shielding the TMC leader.

‘Will be arrested’

Immediately after the high court’s order, the TMC’s spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said on social media that Shahjahan will be “arrested in seven days.”

TMC – under fire over the claims at Sandeshkhali – has announced a rally at Kolkata’s iconic Brigade Parade grounds on March 10.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP in the Rajya Sabha Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said, “TMC’s Sheikh Shahjahan is entirely in the shelter of the state police.”

Meanwhile, the Calcutta high court has ordered a stay of three months on the state CID’s case against ABP Ananda vice-president and journalist Suman De. “The anchor has repeatedly apologised for the false news that was aired. While it may be probed as to why this news was aired, the charges against him are not acceptable,” said Justice Kaushik Chanda.

TMC leader held

In Sandeshkhali itself, there has been heavy police and security force presence at the houses of TMC leaders, which are often being stormed by angry villagers.

On the morning of February 26, villagers attacked the house of a TMC leader from Bermajur, Shankar Sardar. Sarkar is a member of the Gram Panchayat. Local women alleged that Shankar used guns to intimidate them often and is close to TMC ministers. Locals alleged that along with another strongman, Tapan Sardar, Shankar used to also take away the daily wages earned by labourers.

Over the weekend, angry villagers had also stormed the house of local heavyweight Ajit Maity. Maity fled and took shelter at a civic volunteer’s house. Police eventually took him into custody. Climbing onto a police jeep, Maity told reporters, “I have been a BJP worker for a long time. I joined TMC in 2019. I don’t know what these earlier complaints against me are.”

Villagers are resolute that Maity’s alleged strong-arming tactics had been in place even before. “He has always tortured the poor. He took our land earlier as well. Greed drove him to the TMC,” says one Nirmala Sardar.

TMC ministers visit

On Sunday, leaders of a beleaguered TMC held public meetings at Sandeshkhali. Villagers, armed with brooms and sticks, stopped Sujit Bose and Partha Bhowmick on the tracks. The two had to hold their meeting at the Bermajur School. With Ajit Maity behind bars, Bose and Bhowmik announced that Haladhar Ari and Shaktipada Raut would take over temporary charge of the party’s local wing.

State irrigation minister Bhowmick claimed the allegations of wrongdoing were not exactly true.

“Perhaps some people have been mentally tortured but never physically. We will not spare anyone who has stolen land in the Bengal ruled by Didi [CM Mamata Banerjee],” Bhowmick said.

The two ministers then participated in a kirtan performance.

This morning, harvested grains stored at the newly appointed Panchayat Samiti chief Haladhar Ari’s house was set on fire.

A CPIM team interacts with Sandeshkhali villagers. Photo: By arrangement.

Villagers have also alleged that Section 144 of the CrPC is being misused by police to ensure they don’t gather. While TMC leaders have been free to enter and leave the area, opposition leader, BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, had to obtain a court order to visit the area and CPI(M) leader Meenakshi Mukherjee was dragged out of the locality when she had visited it a day ago.

“We are giving police till February 29 and will return then. How is it right that state ministers get to roam the area with giant convoys?” Mukherjee said. She has written to Basirhat Police with this complaint.

Locals have also written to the state police asking for the security of those who have made the explosive allegations against TMC leaders.

Translated from the Bengali original by Soumashree Sarkar.

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