TMC internal rivalry and money disputes led to Rampurhat terror

NewsTMC internal rivalry and money disputes led to Rampurhat terror

‘Bhadhu Sheikh was the head of the sand and stone syndicate that used to run from this area. It is this syndicated control by him that created enemies for Bhadhu Shiekh within his own party’.

 

The death of at least 10 people, including two children, who were burnt to death, in Rampurhat block of Birbhum district in West Bengal was the result of a long-standing internal rivalry between two factions of Trinamool Congress (TMC) over sharing of earnings from the syndicate business.

According to sources and eyewitnesses, who were present at Bagtui village, Barshal gram panchayat, 250 km from state capital Kolkata, where the incident took place, on the fateful night of 21 March at around 10.30 pm, a group of 80 to 100 men assembled in the village shouting slogans to avenge the death of TMC’s panchayat up pradhaan (deputy head) Bhadhu Sheikh who was murdered just hours before. Sheikh was elected at the said post for village number 8 in the 2018 Panchayat elections.

Eyewitnesses, who spoke to The Sunday Guardian said that the men and women of the village were under fear since their Panchayat up-pradhaan was murdered allegedly by a faction of TMC leaders over the division of shares or “cut money” that Bhadhu Sheikh used to collect through his syndicate.

As per census 2011, Bagtui is a Muslim dominated village spread across 144 hectares with a population of 5,100. The village has approximately 150 houses. The nearest town, Rampurhat is 2 km away. The local police station is around 2.5 km or 10 minutes away from the village, where the carnage took place. The Tarapith temple is less than 15 minutes away from the village.

“The area was tense and we had all assembled at the village since up-pradhaan saheb was just murdered some hours back. Soon at around 10:30 pm, we saw hundreds of men, who all were from the nearby areas, running towards the settlement with sticks, bombs and shouting slogans. It was then that we asked all the females and children to get inside the house and keep the house bolted from inside. Suddenly, they (Bhadhu Sheikh’s people) started accusing us of killing Sheikh and started to ransack our houses. In between all this, some houses were set on fire and one of the houses happened to be where five women and two children were sent to stay to avoid the chaotic situation outside,” an eyewitness who did not wish to be named told this newspaper.

Eyewitnesses also claim that some of the women and children were also beaten up mercilessly before being locked inside the house and then burnt to death. One of the eyewitnesses also claimed that a woman who was burned to death was first beaten up, chopped into pieces using an axe and then burnt.

At least three women and two children were found dead inside the house of Sona Sheikh, a resident of Bagtui village. All the women and children found dead inside Sona Sheikh’s house were his wife and relatives.

Locals say that Sona Sheikh’s house was targeted primarily by associates of Bhadhu Sheikh under the suspicion that Sona Sheikh was involved in the killing of Bhadhu Sheikh. Sona Sheikh and Bhadhu Sheikh earlier used to work together with both allegedly involved in illegal sand and stone mining business, but had fallen off recently over disputes relating to financial transactions.

There was no communal angle in the entire incident. Both the accused and the victims are from the same community. At least 10 houses in the village were set on fire allegedly by associates of Bhadhu Sheikh over suspicion that Sheikh’s people were involved in the killing of his. The houses that were set on fire had women and children inside them. The residents of Bagtui village are mostly engaged in farming or cattle rearing. The houses there, as most of the rural houses in Birbhum, are made of mud and the thatched roofs. Locals say that the men who came to “kill them” were all armed with petrol and locally made bombs. They even had pistols and weapons on them. They told The Sunday Guardian that first, petrol was poured in the houses and then bombs were hurled which led the houses catching fire.

According to village sources, at least 10 people have been killed in the fire incident, including two children, and the names of the people killed according to locals are–Rupali Bibi, Mihirlal Sheikh, Tuli Khatun, Sheily Bibi, Dolly Bibi, and others.

However, the police claim that eight bodies have been recovered so far and according to police records, the names of the deceased so far are–Noornihar Bibi, Rupali Bibi, Bony Sheikh, Mihirlal Sheikh, Neklal Sheikh and two children.
Locals and eyewitnesses also questioned the role of the police in this entire incident and have said that since the time of the death of Bhadhu Sheikh (who was fatally injured in a bomb attack while talking on phone as he was having tea outside his house), the local police officials were present on the ground, but went away from the village at around 10 pm. Bhadhu Sheikh was murdered at around 8-8:30 pm on the fateful night of 21 March.

Locals claimed that when the arson was happening in the village, they had called for police help, but none came. Local villagers also said that the police informed the fire brigade after a long delay and the firefighters arrived only after midnight, at least two hours after the incident.

“The local police were there since a murder had just taken place in the village and that too of a political person, but they went away at about 10 pm, despite the village being very tense. When the arson was happening, we even called the Trinamool Block president Anirul Hossain for help and to inform the local police, but he did not respond,” a local resident of Bagtui village told this newspaper. When Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Bagtui on Thursday, the locals apprised her of the role of the local police and politician, the Chief Minister immediately ordered the arrest of Anirul Hossain who was immediately arrested from near the Tarapith temple, just hours after Mamata Banerjee instructing the state DG of police. Anarul Hossain is a close associate of Bhadu Sheikh and the block president of TMC in Bagtui.

Who was Bhadhu Sheikh?
Bhadhu Sheikh, a close confidant of TMC’s district president Anubrata Mondal, was considered to be the most powerful political entity in the Rampurhat area due to the support he got from Mondal. Bhadhu Sheikh had humble beginnings and was very poor like most of the residents of Bagtui. Till just about seven years back, Sheikh was working as a daily wage labourer in a meat shop in the village and then he joined the Trinamool Congress and started working for the party. He soon became a part of the illegal sand and stone mining mafia which is rampant in the area.

Local sources told this newspaper that around five years ago, he registered a transport company in his brother’s name and purchased multiple trucks on behalf of the company to ferry the illegally mined sand from the river bed of Brahmani River. Locals say that from a daily wage labourer, Sheikh soon became the “uncrowned” prince of the Brahmani River from where he and his associates, all belonging to the ruling Trinamool Congress, would carry out illegal sand and stone mining business.

“Within just a couple of years, Bhadhu Sheikh became the richest man of the village. He built a huge three storey fancy house in a village where 90% of the houses are made up of mud. He even owned at least four Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV), all of which are parked on the ground floor of his house,” a local TMC leader told this newspaper.
When asked if Bhadu was connected to Anubrata Mondal, the TMC leader said, “Nothing happens in Birbhum without the knowledge of Anubrata da. He knows everything.” Sources close to Sheikh, as well as TMC cadres that this newspaper spoke to, also said that Sheikh was the head of the sand and stone syndicate that used to run from this area. It is this syndicated control by him that created enemies for Bhadhu Shiekh within his own party.
In the last two years, Bagtui has seen four murders, all related to the syndicate. Before the killing of Bhadu, Rajel Sheikh, Bapi Mandal and Babar Sheikh were killed. All these four were active members of the TMC.

Last year, one of these four prominent members of the syndicate, Rajel Sheikh was crushed to death by a dumper truck which was coming from the wrong side at Kalidanga state highway. To avenge this “killing”, an associate of Rajel, shot dead Babar Sheikh, who was the brother of Bhadu Sheikh. The main accused in this case was Sona Sheikh and Palash Sheikh who were arrested, but were later released on bail. Soon after the murder of Babar Sheikh, another prominent member of the syndicate, Baapi Mandal, too, was beaten to death. “Bhadhu babu was very powerful and he was controlling the entire syndicate for very long and used to share his earnings from this with the other TMC leadership on a 60-40% basis, but since the last six to seven months there were intense tiff that was going on with a section of TMC leaders over increasing their share from the syndicate business. This was objected to by Bhadhu Sheikh and his associates,” a local TMC leader told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity.
The TMC leader also said that Bhadhu Sheikh and his wife had also received a call some months back that if Sheikh doesn’t mend his ways, then he will also be killed like his brother, Babar Sheikh. Ever since the incident happened, Sources from the ground told this newspaper that almost everyone has fled the Bagtui village and have taken shelter at their relative’s place in the nearby village as they fear that something more could happen to them if they continue to stay there and interact with the media. Mamata Banerjee on Thursday asked the state DGP and the District Magistrate to ensure that everyone returned to their villages and their homes safely and that a 24X7 police picket be installed in the village to monitor the situation.

Interestingly, local TMC leaders had on the day of the incident claimed that the fire in the houses was caused due to short circuit or a cylinder blast. The TMC’s district president on that same day said that there was no incident and there was some “TV blast” which happened due to which people died.

What has the state government done so far?
The West Bengal government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the matter which is looking after the investigation in the matter. The Bengal government has already suspended the Officer in-charge of the Rampurhat police station and have sent the SDPO (Sub-divisional Police Officer) of Rampurhat on compulsory waiting.

The Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered for a CBI probe into the Rampurhat violence case and has asked the SIT constituted by the state government investigating this case, to hand over the file of the case to the CBI. The court has also asked the CBI to file a status report on the investigation on 7 April, which is the next date of hearing.

The house of slain TMC panchayat up-pradhaan (deputy head) Bhadhu Sheikh.

None of the officials mentioned above responded to The Sunday Guardian’s SMSs and calls. The police has registered two FIRs in the case at the Rampurhat police station under Section 147, 148 (rioting and rioting with arms and deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly with wrong and common intention), 325, 326 (voluntarily causing harm with deadly weapons), 302, 307 (murder and attempt to murder), 435, 436 (causing mischief with fire with the intention to harm) and 427 (damage to property) of the Indian Penal Code.

The police have also arrested 20 people in connection to the case and out of these 20 people, nine of them are between the age of 20 to 30, while two of the accused Tousib is 19-year-old and Rana, 18-year-old. The other accused arrested in this case includes 32-year-old Mofizul Sheikh, 56-year-old Jalal Dewan, 34-year-old Amjad Khan, 38-year-old Mofiuddin Sheikh, among others. On Friday, Rajesh Sheikh, a relative of Bhadu Sheikh, was arrested. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday also met the family members of the deceased and extended financial assistance of Rs five lakh to the next of kin of all the deceased and Rs 2 lakh as compensation to all the 10 families whose houses have been burnt. Banerjee has also announced that a government job from the Chief Minister’s quota will also be given to one family member of the families who have lost their near and dear ones.
A team of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials reached Bagtui village on Saturday and started its investigation into the violence earlier this week. A team of 25 CBI officials reached Rampurhat on Saturday. They first collected the case diary from the police superintendent, and then went to the site of the incident. Sleuths of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) also visited the gutted houses and started collecting samples. Investigators collected samples by emitting UV blue light in all areas where there were fingerprints. At the same time, CFSL serology experts collected samples from all the rooms where burnt blood, burnt flesh and body parts were found. Investigators are also keeping a database. They are taking notes of the places from which they are collecting samples or what they are noticing, since the CBI will prepare the report on the basis of this investigation. The samples will be tested at CFSL’s laboratory in Delhi.

(With inputs from Arup Kali in Kolkata)

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