Calcutta, Feb. 17: Trinamul leader Mohammad Iqbal (Munna) could not have eluded arrest for five days but for help from an influential section of the party, police sources said today.
The suspicion emerged after information was exchanged at a rare Sunday meeting of police officers. Some of the seniormost police officers in the city went into a huddle on a holiday to plan raids after almost three days of relative quiet.
“In the early days of the investigation, we thought Munna would surrender. But as the days went by, we realised that was not to be. Munna has fled Garden Reach and this would not have been possible without the help of a powerful party leader,” said a senior officer of the criminal investigation department (CID).
Before Mamata Banerjee “snatched the case” from Calcutta police, as one officer put it, the force had established contact with Iqbal through his close aides and almost secured his surrender. “But then a Trinamul leader stepped in and dissuaded him from giving himself up with the promise ‘ami shamle nebo (I will take care of it)’,” a Calcutta police officer said.
Sources said that after the Calcutta police brass decided to ignore political diktats, feelers were sent to the chairman of borough XV from the local Garden Reach police station and raids were launched to pile pressure.
“We called up two of Munna’s closest associates and told them to convey the message that their bhai should surrender and that the police would not spare him otherwise,” said an officer. “Three feelers were sent and meetings with his closest associates were held in parts of Karl Marx Sarani, Garden Reach Road and Circular Garden Reach Road.”
“In reply to the second message, his aides told us that Munnabhai was open to our proposal. Several hours passed and when Munna didn’t show up we again asked his men. There was no reply,” the officer said.
The officers have now concluded that “a top political leader felt his prestige would be severely hurt” if Munna surrendered.
The police have learnt that Munna subsequently managed to leave Garden Reach with the help of a middle-rung political leader engaged by his boss. A section of officers believes the middle-rung leader had helped him cross over to Nazirgunge, across the Hooghly from Garden Reach, and is possibly still with him.
The middle-rung leader is said to be a good orator who frequently accompanies a senior Trinamul minister at political meetings in the port area. The middle-rung leader could not be traced since Thursday, the day Munna apparently vanished.
The Telegraph approached minister and Trinamul leader Firhad Hakim tonight for a response to the charge that a senior party leader was still protecting Munna.
Hakim said: “Do the police need my permission to make an arrest? They have to do their job. Who am I to protect Munna?”
Asked if he was aware of the person who is said to be helping Munna with logistical support, Hakim said: “I know several Trinamul leaders in the Garden Reach area who have been with me and have even shared the dais with me at public meetings. It is obvious since the locality belongs to my Assembly constituency.”
Senior Calcutta police officers trooped into the CID headquarters today as it increasingly dawned on the CID that it was ill-equipped to handle on its own a murder case of this magnitude in Calcutta. No officer from either agency could recall another such meeting in at least two decades.
CID officers ensured last night that a government order was issued to tide over procedural humps that could restrict movement of officers. “The order allows the CID to conduct raids and make arrests in a Calcutta police area without notifying it in advance and the same liberty to the city police to overstep its territorial jurisdiction in connection with the case,” said a CID officer.
Pallab Kanti Ghosh, the Calcutta police joint commissioner (crime), said: “Today, we shared information with the CID and the detective department will assist them in every possible way in the Garden Reach case.”
Police officers from both agencies suggested their prime target was Iqbal. However, insiders in the police believe that the “focus” on Munna could mean the probe would end with him and Mukhtar, a Congress functionary.
A Calcutta police officer said the force had wanted to extend the scope, which had the potential to draw in senior political figures. “The CID, however, wants Munna to be their ultimate target. After Munna, it could be Mukhtar. But no one above that.”