Bhola Pal at the Raiganj district hospital. (Nantu Dey)
Raiganj, Nov. 20: A Trinamul Congress leader was injured when he was hit by shrapnel in a shootout between two factions of the party in front of the civic bus stand here this afternoon.
The 55-year-old Bhola Pal was operated on at the district hospital here. Doctors said Pal was out of danger.
His driver, Safiqul Islam, suffered minor injuries and was discharged from the hospital after preliminary treatment.
Pal was the Left-supported vice-chairperson of the Raiganj municipality before joining Trinamul four months back.
The gun battle that took place around 1.40pm spread panic in the area where shops downed shutters for the rest of the day.
Pal, who is also the secretary of the North Dinajpur Contractors’ Association, said he had left his home in his SUV and was headed for Moonlight Club, located close to the railway station, about 150 metres from where the shooting took place.
“I was going to the club with my driver and a club member, Subrata Sarkar. Suddenly, about seven youths surrounded the car from three sides as it slowed on a speed-breaker in front of the bus stand and burst bombs and began firing at us. Shrapnel hit my left thigh and chest as bullets came raining down at us. We clambered out of the car and ran to the railway station. Later, I took shelter in the nearby club from where we were taken to the hospital. All of us had a narrow escape.”
Pal said he had recognised three of the attackers. “I could recognise Bappa Sen, Ainul Haq and Toton Mitra, all known criminals of the town who extort money from contractors. I have been attacked by them at the district collectorate earlier also.”
He, however, denied that anybody had fired from his car.
Ainul, whom The Telegraph managed to speak to, said Pal’s car had stopped by him and two persons had opened fire at him from inside. “I am out on bail in connection with an arms case and I was going to the police station to report there. Bhola Pal’s car stopped and Biplab Chhetri, a known shooter, and Pinku Saha, started firing at me. I managed to flee from the spot and I don’t know who later fired at the car,” Ainul said. He said he was a Trinamul Congress worker.
| People gather in front of the SUV whose windscreen was shattered in the gun battle. Picture by Nantu Dey
A traffic constable on duty at the spot, Nepal Ghosh, said he had witnessed the incident. “I was about to go off duty at 2pm. Suddenly, there was a loud noise and I turned around and found the area covered in smoke. Some youths had surrounded a car and were firing at it. Someone from inside the car was returning fire. I saw some men getting off Pal’s car and fleeing. People panicked in the area and began fleeing,” the constable said.
Around 8. 30pm, police arrested Ainul from Bandar and Pinku Saha from the hospital premises.
The Trinamul Youth Congress district president, Gautam Pal, who called on Bhola Pal at the district hospital, said the contractor had been drafted into the party by district president Amal Acharya about four months back. “Bhola Pal is now an active district committee member of the party and was supposed to organise a public meeting to be attended by Subendhu Adhikary and Mukul Roy here on November 28. I cannot say if someone who does not want the meeting to take place tried to eliminate him,” he said.
Political observers said ever since the district Trinamul Congress committee was restructured following the attack on the principal of Raiganj College in January, the party had broken into two factions.
“Amal Acharya, who had joined the Trinamul days before the 2011 Assembly polls, was not accepted by the earlier leadership. Former president, Tilak Chowdhury, doesn’t see eye to eye with Acharya and shuns all his programmes. Bhola Pal is with Acharya. This is nothing but turf war between the two factions,” said an observer.
The inspector-in-charge of Raiganj police station, Samir Pal, said: “We have found both spent and live bullets inside the car and outside it. They suggest there was a gun battle.”