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Facing Fire, TMC Leaders Say Allegiance Only to People of Bengal, Shahjahan Arrest Soon

New Delhi: Facing fire for inaction against local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders in light of allegations of sexual assault and land grab in West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali, the party’s Rajya Sabha MPs said in the national capital on Tuesday (February 27) that the state government is taking action and the key accused Sheikh Shahjahan will be arrested soon.

Addressing a press conference, Rajya Sabha MP Saket Gokhale as well as Rajya Sabha MPs-elect Sagarika Ghose and Sushmita Dev said the state government has already arrested 20 people and that Shahjahan will also be arrested now that the Calcutta high court has said that there is no stay on taking action against him.

“The West Bengal police has been accused of being partisan and acting on Mamata [Banerjee]’s instructions. I want to tell the BJP that the advocate general has informed the court that 20 arrests have been made in Sandeshkhali,” said Dev.

She continued: “Those who are accusing the West Bengal police of being partisan, we want to ask them, who is Shibu Hazra? Mamata Banerjee has proved that whether it is Bengal’s mothers, sisters or elderly, if there is any injustice, she will take action and not look at any party affiliation.”

Hazra, a TMC block-level president in Sandeshkhali and a member of the North 24 Parganas zilla parishad, was named by multiple women in serious sexual harassment cases and was only arrested earlier this month after the state government faced pressure from the opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist).

In response to a question by The Wire on why the state government has failed to act against Shahjahan despite allegations of land-grab and attacks on women being raised in the West Bengal assembly as far back as in 2012, the TMC leaders said that a first information report (FIR) had not been filed then.

“Police file a complaint if there is an FIR. Tomorrow, I can stand and say something in front of the chief justice of India, but the police will investigate only when an FIR is filed,” said Gokhale.

When asked by The Wire about why the issue being raised in the assembly did not warrant any action, Ghose added that now that FIRs have been registered, the police investigation has started.

“Now that FIRs have come, the police are investigating and arresting,” she said.

On Monday, The Telegraph reported citing official assembly records that CPI(M) MLA Nirapada Sardar, who represented Sandeshkhali from 2011 to 2016, had raised those issues at least thrice – twice in 2012 and once in 2013 – in the House.

Sardar, who was arrested on February 11 on charges of fomenting trouble in Sandeshkhali, was granted bail on Tuesday.

“The government is proactively engaging on women’s issues across the state. In every area, the TMC government is looking to address grievances that are brought by the women of the area and when the complaint was registered, the government did act,” said Ghose to The Wire.

Gokhale said that the state government had not acted against Shahjahan due to a February 7 order by the Calcutta high court restraining any action against him. He went on to take aim at the BJP.

“On February 7, the Calcutta high court in its order clearly restrained West Bengal police from taking any action against Sheikh Shahjahan. February 8 onwards every single day, one BJP minister, one BJP MLA, somebody from this commission or that commission started visiting Sandeshkhali every single day,” he said.

“Yesterday [February 27], the Calcutta high court issued a clarification that the West Bengal police was free to take action against Shahjahan Sheikh. This happened at 12:30 in the afternoon [and] by 1-1:30 pm, an FIR had been filed.

“The West Bengal police are very confident that they will nab him in a few days. This is not Nirav Modi or Mehul Choksi, where they take a foreign passport and leave the country. This is not a BJP government but a TMC government. He will be brought to book in a matter of days,” he said.

Shahjahan has been absconding since January 5, when Enforcement Directorate officials who were investigating an alleged ration distribution scam were attacked at his residence.

Dev said that chief minister Mamata Banerjee will be visiting Sandeshkhali soon.

“You [the BJP] did not remove Brij Bhushan [Sharan Singh], you garlanded Bilkis Bano’s rapists. I want to tell them that her [Banerjee’s] only allegiance is the people of Bengal and those who do injustice to the people of Bengal will face action,” she said.

“Let me assure you Mamata Banerjee Abishek Banerjee [Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha MP] will go there, let us see when the PM will go to Manipur,” she said.


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