April 13, 2024 12:27 (IST)
Follow us:
facebook-white sharing button
twitter-white sharing button
instagram-white sharing button
youtube-white sharing button
Amid unemployment, inflation issues, PM Modi's leadership likely to help his third consecutive term at govt: Survey | AAP to support INDIA bloc 'unconditionally' in UP for Lok Sabha election | Amid threats from Iran, Israel launches massive strike on Gaza | Centre advises citizens to avoid travel to Iran, Israel | Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls soon, statehood to be restored: PM Modi in Udhampur
Sandeshkhali: Sheikh Shahajahan's fiefdom grabs India's political spotlight ahead of Lok Sabha polls Sandeshkhali Cauldron
Photo courtesy: Screenshot grab

Sandeshkhali: Sheikh Shahajahan's fiefdom grabs India's political spotlight ahead of Lok Sabha polls

Souvik Ghosh/IBNS | @indiablooms | 29 Feb 2024, 11:15 pm

Kolkata/IBNS: Just months ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections 2024, West Bengal's Sandeshkhali turned out to be a heated political battleground after the state's ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC)'s now expelled leader Sheikh Shahjahan faced charges of land grabbing and sexual abuse from women of the area, which falls in North 24 Parganas.

As the mass protests by women demanding the arrest of Shahjahan, who was only on Thursday nabbed from Minakha by state police after 56 days since he went absconding, swelled up in Sandeshkhali, the bitter political rivalries between the TMC and spirited opposition camp Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) soared.

Shahjahan's two aides, Shibaprasad Hazra or Shibu Hazra and Uttar Sardar- co-accused of land grabbing and sexual abuse- were arrested earlier this month.

Genesis of the case

On January 5, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials reached Shahjahan's residence to quiz him in connection with the ration distribution scam, in which erstwhile state Food and Supplies Minister Jyotipriya Mallick is already in jail.

In quite an unanticipated reaction, the ED officials were attacked allegedly by Shahjahan's followers who were in huge numbers and were forced to flee the spot boarding a vehicle of a news organisation.

Shahjahan- the head of an administrative block in Sandeshkhali- was an aide of Mallick, who is accused of diverting a huge sum of money from the food distribution system.

After Shahjahan went absconding from Sandeshkhali- an island where one can reach through ferry services from Dhamakhali in North 24 Parganas- a few women came out in protests against the leader accusing him of land grabbing for over a decade.

The protests escalated in February when a large of number of women with brooms, sticks gathered to demand the arrest of Shahjahan accusing him of sexual abuse.

Several women with most of them covering their faces accused Shahjahan and his aides of calling them to the local party office at odd hours. Some accused the TMC leaders of sexual abuse.

"They used to call good looking women at night. If they don't turn up, their husbands will be beaten up," protesters told the press.

"When we used to file a complaint with police, we were asked to talk to Shahjahan," another protester said.

The protests, which were mostly led by women, turned out to be recurrent incidents in the area featuring in the headlines of the news channels and newspapers nationally.

Police on Thursday nabbed Shahjahan only after the Calcutta High Court cleared no stay was put on his arrest in connection with the January 5 incident, a claim put forward by the TMC top brass, a party which is at loggerheads with the BJP which runs the Centre.

TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee last Sunday claimed police could not arrest Shahjahan due to a stay order by the Calcutta High Court. The claim was outrightly rejected by the high court.

In another direction, the high court on Wednesday said police or ED or Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can arrest Shahjahan, who has been now remanded to 10-day police custody by the Basirhat court.

Sheikh Shahjahan after arrest | Photo courtesy: Screenshot grab from videoSheikh Shahjahan after arrest | Photo courtesy: Screenshot grab from video

Political firestorm

In a remote similarity with the 2007/2008 Singur and Nandigram land movements that catapulted TMC chief Mamata Banerjee to power a few years later, the Sandeshkhali incident triggered a political slugfest between the ruling party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP just months ahead of the General Elections.

In her initial remarks, Mamata, a three-term Chief Minister and a seasoned politician, had said in the state assembly, "By targeting Shahjahan, ED entered into the area and then BJP entered and created a rift between the Adivasis and minorities."

"If there is any genuine complaint, the government will take action. But first, I have to learn what has happened," she added.

Facing a barrage of protests from the locals, the TMC, which rules the state from 2011, set up camps in Sandeshkhali to register complaints and also claimed to have solved many of them.

Sandeshkhali violence | Photo courtesy: Screenshot grab from videoSandeshkhali violence | Photo courtesy: Screenshot grab from video

Leader of Opposition (LoP) and BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari, who was at the forefront of the BJP's protests against the TMC government, claimed Shahjahan's arrest was a "mutual understanding".

Adhikari posted on X, "Told you so yesterday, that the Scoundrel of Sandeshkhali - Sheikh Shahjahan is in the safe custody of Mamata Police.

"His so-called arrest (on basis of mutual understanding) has been declared now as the nitty-gritties of the deal between him and Mamata Police regarding the facilities he would be enjoying in lockup and prison have been finalised."


The writer is a Kolkata-based entertainment, sports and political correspondent with IBNS. He can be reached on thisissouvikghosh@gmail.com

Support Our Journalism

We cannot do without you.. your contribution supports unbiased journalism

IBNS is not driven by any ism- not wokeism, not racism, not skewed secularism, not hyper right-wing or left liberal ideals, nor by any hardline religious beliefs or hyper nationalism. We want to serve you good old objective news, as they are. We do not judge or preach. We let people decide for themselves. We only try to present factual and well-sourced news.

Support objective journalism for a small contribution.