AA Edit | Sandeshkhali: Bengal govt has a lot to answer

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

Trinamul leader's arrest green light after Calcutta HC clarification

Women stage a protest demanding the arrest of local TMC leaders over Sandeshkhali incident allegations, in North 24 Parganas district, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (PTI Photo)

The clarification given by the Calcutta high court that there is no court order stopping the West Bengal police from taking action based on complaints lodged by the women of Sandeshkhali village in North 24 Parganas against Trinamul Congress zilla parishad member Shahjahan Sheikh has exposed the foot-dragging of the state government when it comes to arresting the now-absconding leader.

As per the court order, a wrong impression had been created that a stay order on the arrest of this person was granted. “There is nothing on record staying the arrest and, therefore, the said person shall be arrested by the police authorities”, the court stated on Monday. Left with no alternative, the government assured a division bench headed by the Chief Justice that the police will arrest the accused in a week’s time.

A division bench of the high court had originally stayed an investigation by a joint team of state police and the Enforcement Directorate against Mr Sheikh, who is also the TMC’s convenor of Sandeshkhali Assembly constituency, into a mob attack on a team of ED officers who went to raid his residence in Sandeshkhali on January 5 in connection with an old land-grab case.

It is now clear that the government and the ruling party has been using this as an alibi to evade action in this new instance involving 42 FIRs filed by women over four years. Not only is this a brazen attempt to obfuscate a court order, it is also an open display of arrogance towards the rule of law and an unacceptable attempt to fool the aggrieved. That the TMC has realised its game is up is reflected in the statement of the party spokesperson who thanked the high court “for untying the tangle and allowing the police to take action”.

For quite some time, happenings in Sandeshkhali, located on the Sunderbans border, have horrified citizens. It may be remembered that the state police has made little or no effort to apprehend Mr Sheikh, a close aide of TMC MLA and former minister Jyotipriya Mallick who was earlier arrested in the ration scam case, for the attack on the ED team.

He is now facing the more serious allegation of sexually exploiting the women in the village along with his aides and engaging in grabbing their land as well. Protests have been simmering in the area since February 6. Agitated people even vandalised the properties of Uttam Sardar and Shibu Hazra, two trusted lieutenants of Mr Sheikh, over the next three days. The state government, instead of following procedures and investigating the serious allegations, tried to cover them up. It enforced prohibitory orders and suspended Internet services at 16 gram panchayats in Sandeshkhali-I and Sandeshkhali-II blocks. It also blocked teams of Opposition politicians who ventured to the area to apprise themselves of the situation.

The Trinamul Congress and the government it heads have been engaged in an attempt to brush the series of developments under the carpet and allow its leader to escape the arm of the law. It is time the state police and other agencies are told in no uncertain terms that their job is to protect the citizen. Doing the bidding of political masters does not behove a professional force.

As for the Trinamul Congress, it is inviting the wrath of the people who hold the power to teach it the right lesson.