TMC strongman Shahjahan held, in cop custody

The Asian Age.  | Rajib Chowdhuri

India, Crime

Sheikh was later remanded in 10 days' police custody by a Basirhat court

Trinamool Congress leader Sheikh Shahjahan, accused of sexual violence and land grabbing in Sandeshkhali village, being produced at the Basirhat court, in North 24 Parganas, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (PTI Photo)

Kolkata: Elusive Trinamul Congress strongman Shahjahan Sheikh, the prime accused of the violent mob attack on an ED team and cases pertaining to rape of women and land grabs in Sandeshkhali in the North 24 Parganas of West Bengal, was arrested by the state police early on Thursday. He had been evading arrest for the last 55 days.

Mr Sheikh was later remanded in 10 days' police custody by a Basirhat court. Following his arrest, the TMC, in a damage control move, “suspended” him from the party for six years. Party spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Derek O'Brien made the announcement.

Echoing Mr O'Brien, state minister Bratya Basu indicated that Mr Sheikh, a member of the North 24 Parganas zilla parishad and a "Matsya Karmadhakshya" i.e. the head of the district’s fishery development, will also lose his government post.

In the afternoon, the state CID brought Mr Sheikh to its headquarters at Bhawani Bhavan in Kolkata after taking over the two cases filed by the ED and cops against him at the Nyajat police station for orchestrating the attack on an ED team that raided his house in Sandeshkhali in the ration scam on January 5.

Mr Sheikh's lawyer Raja Bhoumik said: “In those two cases, the police prayed for 14 days’ remand of my client, booked under non-bailable charges. We opposed them and prayed for his bail, which the judge rejected and sent him to 10 days' police custody.” Mr Sheikh and his aides also face many other cases, including rape charges.

Mr Sheikh’s arrest came a day after the Calcutta high court gave a free hand to the CBI and ED to catch him and Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari’s claim that the state police took away "the thug" from the Bermajur-II gram panchayat area in Sandeshkhali and kept him in its safe custody since Tuesday midnight.

After Mr Sheikh’s arrest, Mr Adhikari said, “His so-called arrest (on the basis of mutual understanding) has been declared after the nitty-gritty of the deal between him and the Mamata’s police regarding the facilities he will be enjoying in lockup and prison have been finalised."

Mr Sheikh’s arrest came to light after he was quietly taken by the cops to the court at around 5 am on Thursday and kept at the court lock-up, heavily guarded by the state police. Later, ADG (South Bengal) Supratim Sarkar claimed that he was arrested from a residence in Bamanpukur, located in the Minakhan police station jurisdiction, approximately 30 km from Sandeshkhali.

The ADG also wondered why the ED did not arrest Mr Sheikh earlier since the police could not catch him as the HC had restrained the cops from acting against him in the mob attack cases.

Mr Sarkar said: “The complaints filed against Mr Sheikh on on February 7-9 were based on some incidents that happened two–three years ago. It takes time to collect information and evidence and probe those cases.”

Raj Bhavan, in a statement after Mr Sheikh's arrest, said that governor C. V. Ananda Bose had advised the government to arrest the prime accused in the Sandeshkhali incidents within 72 hours on February 26.  "The governor has noted with satisfaction that Mr Sheikh has been arrested,” the statement said.    

Mr Sheikh's brother Alamgir said, “We did not know where he was. His arrest assured us that he was in the district. The police and court will look into the allegations against him. If he is found guilty, we have nothing to say. Otherwise, we will file a defamation case against those who lodged false complaints.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Sheikh Asgar Ali, an aide of Mr Sheikh, was also arrested by the police.