The persistent violence in West Bengal took a most horrifying turn on the night of March 21 when two children and six women were burnt to death following the death of a Trinamool panchayat leader the same day in Rampurhat area, Birbhum district, Frontline reported.
While the police overruled the possibility of political violence being the cause of the deaths, the ruling party alleged that it was a part of a “greater conspiracy” to tarnish the image of Bengal.
On the evening of March 21, Bhadu Sheikh, a panchayat deputy pradhan, was killed in a bomb attack in Bagtui village.
In what appears to be an almost immediate retaliation, Bhadu Sheikh’s supporters set fire to several houses in the village.
Seven charred bodies were recovered from one house, which belonged to Sanju Sheikh, and one person died in hospital. Two others, who have been hospitalised with severe burns were reportedly in a critical condition.
The incident once again highlighted the prevalence of violence in the State and the declining law and order situation, as alleged by opposition parties.
According to Director General of Police Manoj Malviya, preliminary investigations indicate that the violence and deaths have their origin in “deep-rooted personal enmity” and are “definitely not” political murders.
He said: “This does not appear to be [a result of] any political rivalry between two parties. It may have been the result of an immediate retaliation…. It is not political, but there could be some other kind of rivalry between two people out there…. There was personal enmity between two groups which might have led to the murder of the deputy pradhan. I am not confirming whether the fire was a retaliation or some other incident – it is being looked into.”
The ruling Trinamool Congress alleged that the incident was a part of a “greater conspiracy” to tarnish the image of the State and the State government.
Senior Cabinet Minister and Mayor of Kolkata, Firhad Hakim, who had visited Rampurhat, said, “We will not tolerate this conspiracy to give Bengal a bad name. I have told the police that the criminals should be booked, whoever they are…. This is a conspiracy to prove there is lawlessness here and thereby tarnish the image of my party and my government. Our deputy pradhan gets killed and then in the same village a fire is started. Is this a game?”
In the same vein Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “Bhadu Sheikh was a well-loved leader in the region. People of the village were outraged at his death. It is getting increasingly clear there is an attempt to create an issue in peaceful Bengal and thereby target the Trinamool. The murder and the subsequent killings are a part of a larger conspiracy.”
However, earlier, Trinamool district president of Birbhum and party strongman of the region, Anubrata Mandal, said that the fire may have been caused by a short circuit.
The government ruled out an investigation by any Central agency and instead set up a special investigation team (SIT), comprising ADG CID Gyanwant Singh, IG Burdwan Zone B.L. Meena and DIG CID (Ops) Meeraj Khalid. The Home Ministry sought a report from the State government within 72 hours.
The opposition parties in the State came down heavily against the government and alleged that attempts were being made to suppress the truth behind the whole incident. State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Md Salim described the SIT set up by the government as “suppression of investigation and truth”.
The MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, held a virtual meeting with Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who was in Darjeeling at the time, and urged the Centre to intervene.
Addressing the media after the meeting Adhikari said, “What happened at Rampurhat was a massacre…. We have asked the Governor to urge the Centre to intervene here and invoke either Article 365 or 355. The Centre should also consider an NIA probe.
Moreover, there are provisions by which the Centre can intervene when there are attacks on women and children and members of a minority community.”