Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced compensation for the victims of the Bogtui carnage, ordered the arrest of Trinamul block president Anarul Hossain and admitted lapses by the police.
Sources close to her said the three-pronged approach reflected an attempt to win back the confidence of the Muslim-majority Birbhum village, where eight people had been killed following the local Trinamul strongman’s murder.
The sources said Mamata also wanted to send out a message across Bengal and beyond that her administration was doing its job.
Some observers, however, suggested the chief minister would need to do more and punish some senior Trinamul leaders and top police officers to bust the “cop-party nexus” that they blamed for the tragedy.
“Family members of the dead will get Rs 5 lakh each while those whose houses were set on fire will get Rs 1 lakh for repairs,” Mamata said after spending about 20 minutes with the victims in Bogtui, a village on Rampurhat town’s outskirts, around 215km from Calcutta.
As part of her confidence-building measures, the chief minister herself distributed the cheques to the victims’ families. She promised to double the amount for repairs when one of the women said Rs 1 lakh wouldn’t be enough.
Mamata also announced a government job for each bereaved family and Rs 50,000 for those who suffered minor injuries.
“Your own people died, my heart is shocked.... I know money and jobs cannot bring back the dead,” she said.
Ten houses were torched and eight people killed in Bogtui in apparent retaliation for Monday night’s murder of Bhadu Sheikh, Trinamul deputy chief of the local Barshal gram panchayat.
Sources have blamed a feud between two Trinamul groups over the spoils of illegal sand and stone businesses and panchayat contracts. The intra-party character of the violence has allowed some officials and Trinamul leaders to claim it was unrelated to politics.
Following the massacre, the surviving family members of the victims had fled Bogtui fearing further attacks by Bhadu’s associates and supporters.
Trinamul’s political opponents have cited the carnage — which has gained national spotlight and found mention in Parliament — as the latest example of a law-and-order breakdown in Bengal.
Trinamul insiders admitted in private that the violence had come as an embarrassment for Mamata at a time she was striving to emerge as the Opposition’s face against Narendra Modi for the 2024 general election.
Before Mamata’s visit, the district administration had reached out to the families of the victims who had fled Bogtui to coax them back to the village — a necessary step to establish that the worst was over.
When Mamata met returnees like Mihilal Sheikh, Sheikh Toyeb Ali and Fatik Sheikh under a blazing sun, she patiently heard out all their demands.
“No problem, we shall raise the amount to Rs 2 lakh for repairs,” she said when a woman from one of the affected families said that repairing the charred houses would cost more. The prompt response drew applause.
Earlier, the grief-stricken families had described how a group of people had run wild in the village from Monday night till the early hours of Tuesday, with the police doing nothing to save them.
While both sides in the violence were supporters of the ruling party, the police’s allegedly partisan approach has given rise to murmurs that some political leaders had exerted influence.
On Thursday, Mamata sought to display an intent to rise above narrow political interests.
“Where is the DG (director-general of police)?” she asked midway through her conversation with the victims’ families.
As DGP Manoj Malaviya arrived at her side running, she said: “Anarul (Hossain) has to be arrested…. He is our block president. I have been told he didn’t inform the police that night even after many villagers had called and informed him about what was happening.”
Mihilal, who has lost seven family members, had told The Telegraph that Anarul, an aide to Bhadu, had masterminded the attack on them.
“I don’t want to hear anything…. You have to get Anarul from wherever he is. We need to know why he didn’t inform the police,” Mamata said.
Police sources said Anarul, who rose from ordinary village mason to president of Trinamul’s Rampurhat-I block unit, was picked up from Tarapith within two hours of the chief minister passing her directive.
Mamata, who is also home minister, did not spare the police, either. She made a rare admission of lapses by the force, speaking before some of Bengal’s topmost police officers, including members of the special investigation team (SIT).
“The SDPO (sub-divisional police officer) didn’t perform his responsibility properly…. One can say the same about the IC (inspector-in-charge) of Rampurhat police station and DIB (district intelligence branch) officials,” she said.
“Action will be taken against those who failed to perform their responsibilities properly. The cases against them will have to be built in such a way that they don’t get bail easily.”
Mamata rolled out several assignments for the police, such as proper deployment of forces in Bogtui and a state-wide drive to unearth illegal arms and ammunition. Her instructions triggered a flurry of actions.
SDPO Sayan Ahmed was put on compulsory waiting and IC Tridip Pramanik was suspended amid speculation that more heads would roll in the district police over the next few days.
Orders were issued from the office of the ADG (law and order) for a 10-day drive to seize illegal arms, action against known rowdies in each police station’s area, and intelligence-gathering on inter-party and intra-party rivalries in sensitive zones.
In Bogtui, Mamata reiterated her suspicions about a “deep-rooted conspiracy” behind the violence and asked the SIT to explore this angle.
On Wednesday, in Calcutta, she had hinted at a possible conspiracy by “those who are not in power”.
While Trinamul sources lauded Mamata’s interventions saying they proved the administration’s neutrality, not everyone was convinced.
“The nexus between the police and some Trinamul leaders who control illegal businesses is a deep-rooted relationship,” said an IAS officer who had worked in Birbhum.
“Mere expressions of intent and a few transfers will not be enough. She has to act against some of her senior party leaders and top cops.”