Sandeshkhali: Tension intensifies as BJP, Cong leaders' visits cut short

Opposition accuses Mamata Banerjee of fostering 'lawless situation' and attempting to 'communalise' the issue

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee (photo: National Herald archives)
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee (photo: National Herald archives)


Senior leaders of the BJP and the Congress were stopped by police on Friday from visiting the trouble-torn Sandeshkhali in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district, escalating the political tensions in the state as the leaders accused West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee of fostering a "lawless situation" and attempting to "communalise" the issue.

In New Delhi, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste (NCSC) chief Arun Halder said the panel has recommended the imposition of President's Rule in West Bengal in its report submitted to President Droupadi Murmu on alleged harassment of women by ruling TMC (Trinamool Congress) members in Sandeshkhali, a day after a team from the commission visited the area.

The village has been rocked by protests over alleged atrocities, including sexual abuse, by some TMC leaders against villagers, which has triggered a fierce political blame game with senior leaders of the Congress, which is part of the Opposition INDIA bloc along with TMC at the national level, joining others to criticise the Mamata Banerjee government over the issue.

A delegation from the BJP, led by Union ministers Pratima Bhoumik and Annapurna Devi, was stopped by the police at Rampur village en route to the Sandeshkhali block, evoking a sharp reaction as the ministers accused the TMC of instigating lawlessness. Later, they met West Bengal governor C.V. Ananda Bose in Kolkata.

A Congress team led by state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was also stopped from visiting Sandeshkhali. After a confrontation with the police, Chowdhury accused Banerjee of "politicising and communalising" the issue.

"Police stopped the the BJP central team from visiting Sandeshkhali. Police cited prohibitory orders. We said only four of us would go, but we were not permitted," Annapurna Devi, the convenor of the BJP team, told reporters. After being stopped at Rampur, the six-member delegation sat on a dharna.

Bhoumik, the Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment, also alleged that police were "trying to protect the culprits" and criticised their handling of the situation.

"We are Union ministers and MPs, and there are certain protocols. The state police and the administration are not bothered about those protocols. Had the police shown similar promptness in arresting Shahjahan Sheikh, the situation would have been different," Annapurna Devi said.

The BJP's fact-finding team was prevented from visiting Sandeshkhali under Section 144, leading them to propose sending only two women representatives to the area. However, this request was also denied, she added. "Are we criminals that we have been stopped from entering the area," BJP state general secretary Agnimitra Paul asked.

BJP president J.P. Nadda had constituted a six-member committee of party MPs to investigate the situation in Sandeshkhali. Besides Devi and Bhoumik, the other members are Sunita Duggal, Kavita Patidar, Sangeeta Yadav, and Brij Lal.

Questioning the rationale behind denying access to opposition parties, Bengal Congress chief Chowdhury asked: "Why are opposition parties being prevented from entering Sandeshkhali? What is the state government trying to hide? Why are they trying to politicise it."

His criticism came amidst Banerjee's allegations implicating the saffron camp in inciting unrest in the area. Responding to Banerjee's claim that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has a presence in Sandeshkhali, Chowdhury questioned the relevance of the RSS in the ongoing disturbances. "What connection does the RSS have with the disturbances in Sandeshkhali? Are Uttam Sardar or Shibu Hazra Hindu or Muslim?" he asked.

On the BJP delegation being stopped, the ruling TMC accused the saffron party of trying to "vitiate the atmosphere of the state". "Police did the right thing by stopping the BJP delegation. It intends to vitiate the atmosphere of the state. When the administration is doing everything to restore peace, the BJP is trying to disturb that for political gains," TMC leader Santanu Sen claimed. He also hit out at Chowdhury and dubbed the "Bengal Congress as the B-team of the BJP."

A large number of women in Sandeshkhali accused Trinamool Congress strongman Shahjahan Sheikh and his supporters of "land-grab and sexually assaulting" them under coercion. Shahjahan has been absconding after a mob, allegedly affiliated with him, attacked Enforcement Directorate officials who had gone to search his premises in connection with a ration scam on 5 January.

Meanwhile, the apex child rights body NCPCR took cognizance of a report about a child being thrown to the ground by miscreants in Sandeshkhali and issued a notice to the district administration calling for a prompt investigation into the matter.

In its notice to the district magistrate of North 24-Parganas district, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights said it has come across a news article regarding a distressing incident of a group of miscreants, accompanied by police officials, assaulting a woman resident on 10 February.

According to the report, the miscreants forcibly entered her house, physically assaulted her, snatched her infant daughter and callously tossed her away, the commission said.

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