Trinamul leader's killing in Birbhum sparks violence, arson; Governor seeks report from chief secy
Murder of a Trinamul panchayat office-bearer in a Birbhum village on Monday night sparked an orgy of violence that has claimed the lives of at least 10 more people with seven charred bodies found by the fire brigade on Tuesday morning.
The events at Baktui in Rampurhat are unprecedented in the recent history of Bengal. Violent deaths, which had marked the last term of the Left Front government, appear to have staged a comeback. The fire brigade which went to Baktui on Monday night recovered three bodies last night, while the remaining seven were found this morning.
Eleven people have been arrested. But, both police and the Trinamul Congress have denied political motives behind the incidents. The Bengal government has formed a special investigation team to probe the violence.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has condemned the violence and said that law and order in Bengal had “capsized”.
Among the 10 dead, six were women and two were children, local leaders claimed.
State director general of police Manoj Malviya said, no political motive behind the arson could be established yet.
An attempt was made on the life of Bhadu Sheikh, the upapradhan of Barshal gram panchayat, on Monday evening by hurling a crude bomb at him. The injured Sheikh was taken to the local health clinic and later the Rampurhat hospital where he was declared brought dead.
According to local reports, however, the murder of Sheikh snowballed into a vicious attack on the village. Several homes were set ablaze late on Monday night.
Malviya said, “Seven from one family were killed. Another person succumbed at the hospital. So far, 11 arrests have been made. We haven’t been able to establish any political motive behind the incident. Personal enmity could be the probable cause. The SIT has been formed to probe whether villagers went about setting houses on fire after the murder (of Bhadu Sheikh),” Malviya said.But he admitted that the arson was committed within an hour of the Trinamul panchayat office-bearer’s murder.
Governor Dhankar has sought an urgent report from the chief secretary HK Dwivedi. In a video message, Dhankhar said, “Considerably pained and disturbed at the horrifying barbarity at Rampurhat, that according to the DGP has already claimed eight lives. This is indicative of nosediving of law and order in the state. I have emphasised on several occasions that we cannot allow the state to be synonymous with violence culture and lawlessness. The administration is required to rise above partisan interest which in spite of questions is not being reflected in reality. I call upon the police and the government to be vigilant on these aspects, to deal with the matter professionally.”
He said, “In West Bengal, human rights are in decimation and rule of law has capsized.”
But the Trinamul district leadership claimed the incidents of the panchayat leader’s killing and the arson weren’t linked. “I have been told that there was a short circuit that led to an explosion in a television set from where the fire originated and spread to three-four houses. Fire brigade went there immediately. A police team has gone to the village, let them investigate,” said Anubrata Mondal, the Trinamul district president who has kept the district on a tight leash since his party came to power in 2011.
“I wasn’t there. Let police find out. I have heard six bodies have been recovered,” he said.
Bengal govt sets up SIT
The state government has formed a special investigation team under ADG CID Gyanwant Singh, DIG (Western Range) Sanjay Singh and DIG CID (Operations) Miraj Khalid to probe the Baktui incident.
"At this moment we cannot confirm whether the fire is linked to the murder of the Trinamul leader,” said Nagendranath Tripathi, the superintendent of police (Birbhum). “Seven dead bodies were recovered from one house,” he said.
Throwback to 2001
The fire that claimed the lives of the 10 villagers of Baktui in Rampurhat revived memories of a violent incident from 21 years ago. In the then unheard village of Chhoto Angaria in West Midnapore’s Garbeta, 11 Trinamul workers were claimed to have been burnt to death by local CPM leaders on the night of January 4, 2001.
Mamata Banerjee, the then main Opposition leader, had hit the streets to draw political capital from the flames of Chhoto Angaria. The case is mired in legal battles that has so far seen a CBI probe, the arrest of two top CPM leaders from the area (Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali) and claims of fear and intimidation expressed by the principal witness Bakhtar Mondal, who died last month.
The corpses of none of the victims of Chhoto Angaria have been recovered in the last 21 years.
Thirteen people charged in the 2001 massacre were acquitted in 2009 for lack of evidence. The case was reopened after Mamata Banerjee became chief minister. Mondal has apparently retracted his earlier deposition which led to the case against the CPM accused being diluted.
Mondal had claimed in 2013 that he had committed perjury as he was worried about the safety of his family in the West Midnapore village.
Hakim sent to trouble spot
On Tuesday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee dispatched her trusted lieutenant Firhad Hakim and local MLA and deputy Speaker Ashish Banerjee to the trouble spot.
CPM state secretary Mohammad Salim said the incident in Rampurhat was linked to the victory of the sole CPM councillor from Ward 17 in the Rampurhat municipality which went to polls last month.
'Trinamul under attack from Trinamul'
“Fire brigade personnel claimed they were stopped from entering the village. Who stopped them? Mondal says short circuit, TV explosion, while the body count is going up. People in the city cannot comprehend the level of intimidation in the rural areas,” said Salim in a televised address on Tuesday afternoon.
“Trinamul is under attack from Trinamul. The chief minister had instructed to make Opposition-free civic boards. Yet in ward 17 CPM won. Illegal sand mining is rampant involving crores of money. Police came under attack in Birbhum from Trinamul workers, no action was taken. No one is safe under Trinamul, not even their own members,” salim said.
BJP seeks central intervention
Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari demanded central intervention over the Rampurhat incident, which the CPM has described as a massacre.
"Law & order in a rapid freefall in WB. Tension & terror has gripped Rampurhat area of Birbhum district, after a panchayat upoprodhan (deputy chief); Bhadu Sheikh was reportedly killed last evening in a bomb attack. Angry mob ransacked and set afire several houses afterwards," tweeted Adhikari.
"The nightlong barbarity has led to the death of at least 12 people; mostly women. Charred bodies are being recovered as of now. Administrative cover up has already begun with attempts being made to lower the body count. Immediate central intervention required,"he added.
Walkout in Assembly
In the state Assembly, BJP legislators staged a walkout after they were stopped from raising the issue on the floor of the House. The BJP has demanded the resignation of Mamata, who also holds the Home (Police) portfolio.
“If the issue is not linked to factionalism in the Trinamul why were a senior minister and the deputy speaker rushed to Rampurhat in a chopper,” asked Manoj Tigga, BJP legislator.