Trinamool leader faces people’s anger at Sandeshkhali

Accused Sheikh Shahjahan is not being shielded, TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee said, calling for the stay on the investigation to be lifted to ‘see what the State police does next’

Updated - February 25, 2024 10:58 pm IST

Published - February 25, 2024 09:50 pm IST - Kolkata

Local TMC leader Ajit Maity takes shelter inside a house after he was allegedly chased by villagers at Sandeshkhali, in North 24 Parganas district, on Feb. 25, 2024.

Local TMC leader Ajit Maity takes shelter inside a house after he was allegedly chased by villagers at Sandeshkhali, in North 24 Parganas district, on Feb. 25, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

A local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader was chased by angry villagers and took shelter at the house of another local at Sandeshkhali in West Bengal on Sunday, even as the party’s leadership continued to grapple with the villagers’ allegations of land grab and torture against its leaders.

Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee said that the party was not shielding its absconding leader Shahjahan Sheikh, adding that Mr. Sheikh had not been arrested because the Calcutta High Court had stayed the investigation against him. The High Court had, earlier this month, stayed the probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the State police against Mr. Sheikh in connection with an attack on officials of the Enforcement Directorate (ED). 

During the day, groups of women chased the TMC’s Ajit Maity, whom they accuse of land grab and torture, in Sandeshkhali. Mr. Maity took shelter in the house of a local villager in the presence of television news channels. Groups of women holding brooms laid siege outside the house where Mr. Maity hid, police stood guard for hours protecting him. Mr. Maity said that he was forced to join the TMC in 2019 by Mr. Sheikh’s brother, and that he would quit from all party posts. He was rescued from the house and detained by the police later in the evening. Mr. Maity was assaulted by locals on Friday, following which the police made certain arrests.

Sandeshkhali has been on the boil since the first week of February, after the villagers, alleging land grab, and sexual assault on women, began targeting Trinamool Congress leaders. Two local Trinamool leaders, Shiboprasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar, against whom charges of sexual assault were made, have been arrested by the police. Mr. Sheikh, however, remains on the run more than 50 days after his supporters assaulted ED officials on January 5.

Six members of an independent fact-finding committee led by the former Chief Justice of Patna High Court L. Narasimha Reddy were stopped by the police from visiting Sandeshkhali. The members of the committee were taken to Lalbazar Police Headquarters in Kolkata and released later in the day.

Meanwhile, Mr. Banerjee said his party was not shielding Mr. Sheikh. “We have taken action against Ministers Partha Chatterjee and Jyotpriya Mallick. Who is Shahjahan Sheikh? We have a zero-tolerance policy against anyone committing any crime,” Mr. Banerjee said in Budge Budge, at the sidelines of an event.

The Trinamool leader said that the judiciary was guarding Mr. Sheikh and the High Court had tied the hands of the State police. “I want to put this on record — Trinamool is not guarding Sheikh Shahjahan but the judiciary is. This is to ensure that Sandeshkhali remains in the news. Lift the stay and see what the State police does next,” he said.

Rally on March 10

Mr. Banerjee also announced that the Trinamool Congress had called for a public meeting at the Brigade Parade Grounds in Kolkata on March 10 on the issue of denial of funds to the State. The call for the rally comes ahead of the Lok Sabha election, particularly at a time when the Trinamool Congress is facing heat from the Sandeshkhali protests. “I want to appeal to the people that we must fight for Bengal in the upcoming elections. The ‘swanirbhar (golden) Bangla’ that Mamata Banerjee has spoken about will become a reality if the people bless us with their support,” the Diamond Harbour MP said. 

Mr. Banerjee said that between 2014 to 2019, the BJP had two MPs from the State whereas Trinamool had 34 MPs, and the Centre was not able to block people’s money. “But immediately after 18 MPs were elected in 2019, Bengal’s funds were stopped because these elected BJP leaders wrote to the Central government, calling for an economic blockade against Bengal,” he said.

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