Trinamool leader Sheikh Shahjahan arrested, sent to 10-day police custody

Trinamool strongman from North 24 Parganas held over attack on ED team in January; party suspends him for six years; police say that investigation into villagers’ complaints of land grab and sexual assault will take time as they happened around three years back

February 29, 2024 07:18 am | Updated 09:59 pm IST - Kolkata

Sheikh Shahjahan at West Bengal police headquarters Bhawani Bhawan.

Sheikh Shahjahan at West Bengal police headquarters Bhawani Bhawan. | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Controversial Trinamool Congress leader Sheikh Shahjahan was arrested by the West Bengal Police on February 28 night over an attack on officials of the Enforcement Directorate last month.

The Trinamool leader, against whom multiple allegations of land grab and sexual assault have been levelled by villagers at Sandeshkhali, was sent to 10 days in police custody by a court in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district on February 29.

Hours after the arrest, the Trinamool suspended the party strongman from North 24 Parganas for six years.

Sandeshkhali has been on the boil since the first week of February after villagers staged violent protests seeking action against Mr. Shahjahan and other local Trinamool leaders. While Trinamool leaders Shiboprasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar, who were facing sexual assault charges, were arrested by the police, Mr. Shahajahan had evaded security agencies till now.

Attack on ED officials

His arrest comes 55 days after his supporters allegedly attacked an ED team during a search at his residence in Sandeshkhali on January 5, in connection with a PDS scam.

The West Bengal Police’s Criminal Investigation Department took over the investigation into the attack on the basis of a complaint filed by the ED Deputy Director .

“We have arrested Sheikh Shahjahan, one of the prime accused in the attack on ED officials during a raid on January 5, 2024, from Bamanpukur in Minakha area yesterday [Feb. 28] night,” said Supratim Sarkar, Additional Directorate General (South Bengal) of the West Bengal Police. The charges against Mr. Shahjahan include 307 (attempt to murder) 353 (criminal force against public servant) and 326 (grievous hurt), among other charges.

Mr. Sarkar said there were “legal hurdles” in the arrest of the accused, and once the Calcutta High Court gave the go-ahead, the police started conducting extensive searches. The ADG was referring to a High Court stay on the investigation following a petition from the ED. “We had legal obstructions but the ED didn’t. Why didn’t they [ED] arrest him,” Mr. Sarkar said. Earlier this week, the Calcutta High Court had clarified that there was no stay on the arrest of the Trinamool Congress leader. The High Court had on several occasions expressed surprise why he was not arrested.

After Mr. Shahjahan’s arrest in the early hours, he was produced before the court in Basirhat around 10.40 a.m.. The police sought 14 days of custody, but the court granted 10 days. Mr. Shahjahan was later brought to the West Bengal Police Headquarters at Bhawani Bhawan in Kolkata.

Announcing the party’s decision to suspend Mr. Shahjahan for six years, Trinamool leader Derek O’ Brien dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suspend “Narayan Rane or Himanta Biswa Sharma or Suvendu Adhikari tomorrow or day after”. (These BJP leaders have been facing allegations of corruption.)

The Prime Minister is expected to visit the State on Friday.

Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh, who said on February 26 that Mr. Shahjahan would be arrested in the next seven days, also spoke of the “legal hurdle” and said that as soon as the stay was lifted, the accused was arrested.

The Trinamool leadership, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, had initially come out in support of Mr. Shahjahan. However, as pressure kept mounting, the leadership distanced itself from him. Denying that the party was supporting the Sandeshkali leader, Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee had said that the party had earlier shunted Ministers who were involved in scams.

Also Read | Fire and smoke in a West Bengal village

The police also refuted allegations that it did not “deliberately” arrest the Trinamool leader. As regards the fresh complaint filed against Mr. Shahjahan by the villagers, the ADG said if a complaint is registered over a case that occurred two to three years ago, it takes time to investigate the same.

During the day, the police also arrested Amir Ali Gazi, an associate of Mr. Shahjahan, who is wanted in a case of sexual assault.

Villagers celebrate arrest

As soon as the news of the arrest reached Sandeshkhali, the villagers started celebrating. Sweets were distributed and women hugged each other. The villagers demanded stringent punishment for the arrested leader. During the day, Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari and BJP MLA Sankar Ghosh visited Jeliakhali in Sandeshkhali and rejoiced with the villagers.

The West Bengal BJP leadership said the arrest of the Trinamool leader was scripted. Mr Adhikari, who on February 28 had claimed that the accused Trinamool leader was in police custody, said the arrest was “mutual adjustment”. “He will get a five-star facility inside the prison and get to use mobile phones to control the area. As long as the Central agencies do not catch hold of him, nothing will change,” the BJP leader said.

State BJP president Sukanta Majumdar said the arrest was a “face-saving” act by the State’s ruling dispensation, which was forced to arrest him because of the pressure from the BJP.

The CPI(M) leadership, led by State Secretary Md. Salim, held a rally in Sandeshkhali and alleged that the arrest was a conspiracy.

Also Read | Nirmala Sitharaman flays Bengal government over Sandeshkhali unrest

New flags came up in Sandeshkhali after BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari visited the region. File

New flags came up in Sandeshkhali after BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari visited the region. File | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Sandeshkhali had remained tense for the past three weeks with attacks on properties of local Trinamool Congress leaders and villagers coming out in the open and protesting against police inaction.

Several teams, including the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Women, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, had visited Sandeshkhali and recorded the allegations made by villagers.

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