Gajole (Malda), Nov. 1: Police today fired several rounds in the air after a lathicharge failed to disperse angry villagers who went on a looting spree in a ration dealer’s shop at Godang village, 40km from Malda town.
The clash, in which the mob attacked the police with stones and bows and arrows, left seven policemen and around 40 villagers injured. Among these are the officer-in-charge of Gajole police station, Maksedur Rehman. Fifteen injured villagers have been admitted to the local health centre. Fifteen more, all said to be BJP supporters, have been arrested.
According to the police, trouble started around noon. The ration dealer of Godang, Rabindranath Sinha, had opened his shop at 8am. Sinha said he had been anticipating trouble from the local BJP leaders and their supporters and had informed the police. As a result, policemen were posted in the area from early morning.
“It was just after 12 that a few hundred people arrived in a procession and rushed into my shop. They started looting rice and sugar right in front of the police. When the policemen resisted with lathis, the villagers rained arrows on the small force of sixteen, who then fired in the air,” Sinha said. He alleged that 17 quintals of rice, six quintals of sugar and 680l of kerosene had been looted.
Malda police superintendent Dilip Mondal said police had no alternative but to fire. “The manner in which the police were attacked, there could have been loss of lives on our side,” the police chief said.
Police officials said the picket was placed after Sinha lodged a written complaint alleging that some BJP leaders of the area had called him and demanded Rs 2 lakh.
Sinha alleged that the BJP leaders had instigated innocent villagers against him. Godang falls in the Raniganj-II village panchayat, which was a BJP stronghold till the last panchayat elections when the CPM won the polls.
Kshudiram Arjya, a local BJP leader, on the other hand, alleged that Sinha had been cheating villagers of their dues for nearly a decade.
“He had been openly selling ration items in the market and despite several complaints to the authorities, no action was taken as he enjoyed the CPM’s patronage,” Arjya said.
He said Sinha had promised to attend a meeting with the villagers on October 29, but later refused to do so. “The anger of the residents boiled over when he summoned the police today,” the leader said. He also trashed Sinha’s claims of demands for money.
A villager said following the incident, a huge police force, including personnel of the Rapid Action Force, descended on the village and beat up everybody in sight.