March 7: Mohammad Iqbal (Munna), the fugitive Trinamul Congress leader wanted for the murder of a police officer in Calcutta, was arrested tonight at Dehri-on-Sone in Bihar.
Munna, who landed the Mamata Banerjee government in one of its biggest crises, was caught a day after a raid on his relatives’ place in Aligarh and the night before the Bengal budget session begins.
The swoop by a CID team from Calcutta in Uttar Pradesh apparently put the Trinamul councillor on the run again, triggering an inter-state hunt that ended at the taxi stand at Dehri-on-Sone railway station.
Munna, who could not be arrested initially because of meddling by the political leadership that eventually removed the police commissioner for ordering a manhunt for the councillor, was hiring a cab to go to Jamshedpur when railway police arrested him. The steel city is a six-hour drive away.
The Trinamul leader carrying a strolley bag gave in without resistance as a police team surrounded him around 9pm.
“We received a call from the CID, Calcutta, informing us that Iqbal could be here,” said Raj Pravesh Paswan, the Government Railway Police’s station house officer at Dehri-on-Sone.
In Calcutta, Sivaji Ghosh, additional director-general of police, CID, said: “We had specific information that he was travelling on a train. We alerted the local police.”
The arrest was executed 23 days after a man, who was part of a mob allegedly led by Munna, gunned down police officer Tapas Chowdhury at Garden Reach.
Late tonight, the unshaven Munna, several kilos lighter since he went underground, was taken to the GRP lock-up at Dehri-on-Sone.
Munna is said to have told the police that he went to Aligarh from Calcutta. From Aligarh, he caught a train to Patna. Then he took a bus to Bikramganj, a small sub-divisional town in Rohtas district, about 140km southwest of Patna.
“He tried to hire a taxi for Jamshedpur at Bikramganj, but could not,” a source said. Munna took a bus to Dehri-on-Sone, a key railway town about 25km from Bikramganj, and had paid Rs 6,000 for the ride to Jamshedpur.
A town in central Bihar’s Rohtas district, Dehri is 165km southwest of Patna. The station is called Dehri-on-Sone because of a nearby bridge on the Sone, on whose bank the town grew. Built in 1900, the bridge shortened the distance between Delhi and Calcutta, the capital of British India then. Novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is said to have written Grihadaha while on vacation in Dehri.
On Wednesday, the CID team from Calcutta had raided a house on the outskirts of Aligarh town where the in-laws of Munna’s sister live. But the team was almost beaten back and the melee helped Munna flee.
Three of his relatives were detained later for aiding the escape and it is from this trio that the police came to know about two more hideouts — in Patna and Agra — where Munna could take shelter with his relatives.
“Wednesday’s raid (in Aligarh) was on a house atop a restaurant named Bobby. However, some of the residents started hurling stones at the raiding party to distract attention,” said Amit Pathak, the Aligarh SSP.
Uttar Pradesh police sources said by the time the CID team entered the house, Munna had gone. “We did not see him escape. But the raid was conducted only after we were absolutely convinced of his presence inside the building,” Pathak added.
The police have found that Munna, who traces his roots to Khaidora village in Aligarh, used to trade in goats there before he shifted base to Calcutta.
Although no one would officially confirm any link, the arrest came a few hours after chief minister Mamata Banerjee met senior police officers at Writers’ Buildings in the presence of urban development minister Firhad Hakim.
Munna used to be Hakim’s right-hand man and the minister had claimed minutes after the police officer’s murder outside Harimohan Ghose College that the Trinamul councillor was the actual target of the bullet.
Additional director-general (CID) Sivaji Ghosh, additional director-general (law and order) Banibrata Basu, city police commissioner Surajit Kar Purakayastha and joint commissioner (headquarters) Jawed Shamim also attended the meeting this afternoon.
Officially, the meeting was called to discuss allegations of mass cheating in the board exams but there was no explanation for Hakim’s presence.
The budget session of the Assembly starts on Friday and Mamata did not want the Opposition to get a stick to beat her government with, suggested sources in Trinamul.
However, if Munna implicates other leaders in the goings-on in the port division, the government runs the risk of drawing fire again. The scramble for the spoils of the port division, in which Garden Reach falls, is said to be at the root of the clashes.