Sandeshkhali emerges as the rallying point for campaign in West Bengal

While PM Modi had referred to alleged atrocities on women at Sandeshkhali at every political meeting in the State, the Trinamool Congress leadership has been trying to raise question on the narrative of the BJP over videos released from a sting operation

Updated - May 15, 2024 10:59 am IST

Published - May 15, 2024 03:13 am IST - Kolkata:

Women of Sandeshkhali address the press conference at BJP office, in Hooghly on May 13, 2024.

Women of Sandeshkhali address the press conference at BJP office, in Hooghly on May 13, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

The allegations of land grab and sexual assault at Sandeshkhali have emerged as the rallying point of the Lok Sabha polls both for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress.

With polling concluding for 18 of the 42 seats and election remaining for the last three phases, the allegations and counter allegations over Sandeshkhali have dominated the political rhetoric.

The island in the Sundarbans made headlines in February this year, when violence erupted over allegations of land grab and sexual assault targeted at local Trinamool leadership, particularly Sheikh Shahjahan. Mr. Shahjahan was arrested by West Bengal police on February 29 and he remains in the custody of central probe agencies from the first week of March.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed 12 election rallies in West Bengal after the dates of the Lok Sabha polls were announced and Sandeshkhali was the highlight of his speech on every occasion.

During his last election rally in the State (May 12), Mr. Modi alleged that Trinamool Congress party’s goons were threatening the ‘tormented women’ of Sandeshkhali to protect the accused Sheikh Shahjahan.

The BJP leadership is hopeful that the Sandeshkhali issue will get them the support of women from the State who have preferred the Trinamool in the past because of the welfare schemes and the people’s connect of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee among women. The number of women voters in the State stand at nearly 3.73 crore which is almost 50% of the entire electorate. The BJP has nominated Rekha Patra, a local woman from Sandeshkhali, for the Basirhat Lok Sabha seat under which the constituency falls.

However, for the past few days the Trinamool leadership has been trying to raise question on the narrative of the BJP over videos released from a sting operation where a local BJP leader was heard saying that there was a conspiracy and women of Sandeshkhali were made to sign blank papers which was later turned into police complaint. The Trinamool has also tried to puncture holes in the claims made by the BJP candidate Rekha Patra through a series of videos.

“As the women of Sandeshkhali talk about how they were deceived by @BJP4India, two Rekhas come to light. Rekha Sharma’s manipulation and Rekha Patra’s scripted words are exposed and out for the world to see!,” Trinamool tweeted from its official handle on Tuesday.

During the day, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee targeted the Central leaders in the BJP and said that it was not enough to put blame on a local BJP leader but those behind the conspiracy should be brought to book.

Also Read | As Sandeshkhali women retract complaints, NCW writes to EC seeking inquiry

Gangadhar Koyal, the local BJP leader who featured in the video, has approached Calcutta High Court seeking transfer of probe into the alleged sexual atrocities at Sandeshkhali to the CBI.

“BJP leaders made a lot of hue & cry in connection with Sandeshkhali. However, recent sting tapes that have come to light show that BJP Mandal Sabhapati Gangadhar Kayal, on camera, accepted that they (BJP) paid money to local women to file fake rape cases,” Trinamool leader Abhishek Banerjee said on Tuesday.

Amid the political slugfest, Sandeshkhali remains on the boil with supporters of the BJP clashing with the Trinamool. On Sunday, BJP supporters heckled a Trinamool worker in the presence of a Trinamool MLA.

On Monday a group of people in Sandeshkhali blocked a road by setting tyres on fire in Bermajur area, objecting to the arrest of the four women of Sandeshkhali. They also protested against the purported videos circulated “to malign the image” of saffron party leaders. The police had to use force to clear the protesters.

Sandeshkhali which falls in Basirhat will go to polls on June 1 where BJP’s Rekha Patra is contesting against Trinamool’s Hazi Nurul Islam and Congress-supported CPI(M) Nirapada Sardar.

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