Police have arrested eight Kurmi workers and leaders, including Rajesh Mahato, the state president of Adivasi Kurmi Samaj, in connection with Friday’s attack targeting junior forest minister Birbaha Hansda while she was tailing the convoy of Trinamul national general-secretary Abhishek Banerjee in Jhargram.
All eight accused were arrested on multiple non-bailable charges, including attempt-to-murder and assaulting a public servant by causing grievous hurt.
“We arrested Rajesh Mahato and three others on Sunday, and four more on Saturday in connection with Friday’s attack. All of them were produced in Jhargram court (on Sunday) that granted a day’s judicial custody. They will be produced before the Jhargram court on Monday, again,” said a police official.
Mahato, a Kurmi leader and an English teacher at a high school in West Midnapore’s Kharagpur, was on Saturday night transferred to a school in Cooch Behar by the state education department, this move being deemed a result of his alleged role in the Kurmi protest along Abhishek’s route.
The arrests triggered resentment among the Kurmi community, coming close on the heels of chief minister Mamata Banerjee giving a clean chit to the community and holding the BJP responsible for the attack. Speaking on Saturday at a rally in West Midnapore’s Salboni, Mamata said she believed her Kurmi brothers were not involved in the attack, but the BJP in the name of the Kurmis, resorted to violence and tried to attack Abhishek.
“Even after the chief minister gave a clean chit, our leaders were arrested. It means the state government is being duplicitous with the Kurmi people. We have organised a protest at every Kurmi hamlet including in Bengal and neighbouring Jharkhand and Odisha,” said Suman Mahato, a central committee member of Ghaghor Ghera Committee, a platform of various Kurmi outfits that are active in Jungle Mahal with their demand of the Scheduled Tribe status.
A Trinamul leader, however, said police had arrested only those persons whose roles were indicated in Friday’s attack during the investigation.
At least a dozen tribal outfits on Sunday met in Bankura and formed a consolidated platform to protest the attack on junior minister Hansda, who is a tribal leader and actress. The outfit called a strike across Bengal on June 8 in protest of the attack on Hansda.
“At least a dozen tribal outfits formed a common platform and decided to continue movement against the moves to give ST tag to the Kurmis. We have called a strike on June 8,” said Dileshwar Mandi, a leader of the Adivasi Ekta Manch.
Several Trinamul leaders in the Jungle Mahal alleged that the attack on Hansda and police action against the Kurmis have both sharpened the ongoing conflict between the two communities and accused the BJP leaders of trying to add fuel to the fire.
“The situation in the Jungle Mahal is not good at any point. The BJP leaders are already on the ground to worsen the conflicts. We need to restore normality as soon as possible, before the rural poll begins,” said a Trinamul leader in Jhargram.
Suvendu Adhikari, the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, on Sunday said that he would provide legal help to the Kurmi leaders against the supposed vendetta of the state government.
“I would like to tell Rajesh (the arrested Kurmi leader) that he must move court against the vengeful order against him. If you cannot do it yourself and ask for my help, I will help you,” said Adhikari, who is also the BJP’s Nandigram MLA.
Kurmis and tribal voters play a pivotal role in 20 Assembly segments of 41 seats in the four Jungle Mahal districts.
“Our chief minister has already said both the tribal and Kurmi communities are equal to her. Abhishek Banerjee has also asked us to meet the Kurmi people to send out the message that it is the BJP that is not helping them get their ST status. We have to take care of tribal people also,” a Trinamul leader said.