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Arrested: 7 drivers

Calcutta, Jan. 9: Seven of the 16 people arrested are drivers of the vehicles that were torched in Bamanghata yesterday while they were ferrying CPM cadres to Calcutta for a rally.

No Trinamul supporter figures among the 16 arrested for this particular instance of arson and violence because, the ruling party said, its supporters do not believe in “goonda-gardi”.

The nature of the arrests means that almost all the drivers whose vehicles were burnt — eight were set on fire and 16 others damaged — have been picked up and charged with offences ranging from possessing illegal arms, bombing and causing serious injury.

Learning of the arrests after the drivers were produced in court — police had kept under wraps the identity of those picked up — the owners of several vehicles said innocent people were being harassed for renting out the carriers to the CPM.

The names of 12 of the 16 arrested were revealed today as they were produced in Baruipur sub-divisional court and remanded in jail custody for 14 days.

The seven drivers and the registration numbers are: Rutful Haque (WB-25C-8516), Kader Sheikh (WB-25C-1497), Bablu Mian (WB-41D-0388), Rashid Ali (WB-41B-2607), Kutab Sheikh (WB-19F-2097), Tabir Ali (WB-25C-8722) and Mohammed Idris (WB-09F-2333).

Yesterday, while a fleet of vehicles carrying CPM supporters was passing by the Trinamul office in Bhangar’s Bamanghata, alleged Trinamul supporters attacked the vehicles, hurled bombs and beat up and fired at the Opposition supporters.

Witnesses had said that it was after the Trinamul attack that a handful of CPM activists entered the ruling party’s office, ransacked it and damaged three cars and as many motorcycles parked outside.

Today, the owners of the vehicles expressed dismay.

Nasiruddin Sardar, whose driver Rutful Haque has been arrested, told The Telegraph: “My driver is totally innocent. He’s not into politics and he certainly does not carry arms. I see no reason for the arrest, other than the fact that he was driving a vehicle carrying CPM supporters.”

Nazibul Molla, whose driver Tabir Ali has been booked, said: “Everyone knows that I am a CPM supporter and have always given my vehicle for CPM rallies. This is clearly a case of political vendetta. I will move court against this.”

Kader Sheikh’s employer Abidul Molla, whose Mahindra Minidor was burnt down, said he was “amazed”.

“The charges brought against him tantamount to rioting,” Abidul said. “My driver is not an anti-social. I don’t know where they found the arms. Was it on him or was it in the vehicles? If the passengers were carrying arms, why blame him? I don’t know the facts, but one thing I know for sure and that is my driver is not capable of doing what he has been charged with.”

Asked about the arrests, South 24-Parganas additional superintendent of police K.P. Barui would only say: “Sixteen people have been arrested. This is all that I can say. No further comments.”

Pradip Mandal, the working president of the Bhangar Block II Trinamul party unit, said: “We don’t believe in violence and goonda-gardi. This is why none of our party supporters has been arrested. The arrests make it clear who indulged in violence yesterday.”