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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 16 April 2024

On day of street politics, Opposition finally has its day in troubled Sandeshkhali, but after Calcutta High Court steps in

'I came to find out what had happened. Since Mamata has been the chief minister, people here have not been allowed to vote. They were subject to vicious assaults,' says Adhikari, 'once CBI arrests Shahjahan, the people will be allowed to vote again'

Arnab Ganguly Calcutta Published 20.02.24, 07:17 PM
CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat while having conversation with victims at Sandeshkhali Natunpara

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat while having conversation with victims at Sandeshkhali Natunpara TT online

After nearly 12 days the Opposition in Bengal was allowed to set foot in North 24-Parganas Sandeshkhali, though not without over an hour of street-politics and theatrics played out on the dusty roads on Tuesday.

When they did reach, the women would not hold back either their tears or their anger against the ruling Trinamul and its Sandeshkhali general, the fugitive Sheikh Shahjahan.

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“They have grabbed land. They have raped the women. They did not allow the people to vote,” said Suvendu Adhikari, leader of the Opposition in the Bengal legislative Assembly, who spent nearly three hours touring villages, talking to the people. “I have seen thousands of bighas were snatched. More than 700 bigha farmland has been converted into fisheries,” said Adhikari.

BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari during his visit to Sandeshkhali

BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari during his visit to Sandeshkhali PTI

On Tuesday, Calcutta High Court had to intervene once again to allow smooth passage to the Opposition leaders who wanted to listen to the complaints and woes of Sandeshkhali residents. The high court has also set a date for next Monday when the central agencies, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have been asked to appear for the Sandeshkhali case to be heard.

Nearly 75 km away, Adhikari assured residents that the CBI will arrest Sheikh Shahjahan now that the Calcutta high court has taken cognizance.

“I came to find out what had happened. Since Mamata has been the chief minister, people here have not been allowed to vote. They were subject to vicious assaults,” Adhikari said. “Once CBI arrests Shahjahan, the people will be allowed to vote again.”

Barely months before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Sandeshkhali villagers accused the ruling Trinamul of not allowing them to vote since the 2011 Assembly elections that brought Mamata Banerjee to power.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamul nominee, Nusrat Jahan, had received 54.55 per cent of votes from the Basirhat constituency of which Sandeshkhali is a part. Two years later in the Assembly elections from Sandeshkhali, the Trinamul nominee and current MLA, Sukamar Mahata, polled 54.64 per cent votes of the total votes.

At Sandeshkhali’s Notunpara, CPM politburo member Brinda Karat, met the women from the tribal communities, who broke into tears on seeing her.

“The women here are all from tribal families. The men go out to look for work and these women are left at the mercy of the local goons. The land pattas have been snatched and the farmland converted into fisheries,” said Karat. “Whatever they earn under the rural employment guarantee scheme, they have to give the money to the Trinamul goons. All of them are scared and complained that they cannot live without security.”

Karat said like in Sandeshkhali, they had been stopped from visiting Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras in 2020, when a 19-year old Dalit women was allegedly gang-raped and later on died.

“I don’t understand, if women have made complaints, given statements how can these be dismissed as a conspiracy without even an inquiry? She (chief minister Mamata Banerjee) is saying conspiracy to protect her own people. It is her conspiracy to silence the voices raised by the women,” Karat said. “Shahjahan is under the Trinamul’s protection. If he is caught lots of things will be revealed.”

Brinda Karat in Sandeshkhali

Brinda Karat in Sandeshkhali TT online

Even before he had started for Sandeshkhali, at Calcutta’s Nizam Palace, Adhikari had sounded apprehensive whether he would be allowed to enter in what would be his third attempt.

Karat had already been stopped at Dhamakhali, from where one has to take a boat to cross the river Daansa to reach Sandeshkhali.

Karat was talking to the media when Adhikari arrived in his convoy with five other BJP MLAs, Agnimitra Paul, Shankar Ghosh, Bishal Lama, Sumita Sinha Roy and Tapasi Mandal. Like with the CPM delegation, the BJP lawmakers too were informed that Section 144 had been re-imposed in the area.

While the BJP leaders squatted on the streets of Dhamakhali near the ferry ghat, with a self-imposed deadline of one hour before they would take the next course, the division bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam turned down the state’s plea against yesterday’s single bench order allowing Adhikari and Ghosh to visit Sandeshkhali.

Earlier, when protests erupted in Sandeshkhali, CPM youth leader Minakshi Mukherjee and others were stopped from entering. State Congress president and the party leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, was stopped on Friday. Before that state Congress leader Amitabha Chakraborty was not allowed. Adhikari himself was stopped on two previous occasions, February 12 and February 15, after which he sought the court’s intervention.

Adhikari told the villagers that he will be back again on Monday, February 26 and visit the island of Jelliakhali.

“I will visit Jelliakhali island on Monday. If the Trinamul holds a rally on March 3, a week later we will hold a public meeting and unmask them, how they have looted Sundarbans,” Adhikari said.

Trinamul spokesperson Kunal Ghosh dismissed the allegations. “There is one pocket in Sandeshkhali where the Trinamul is not strong. It has been under the control of the CPM, the RSP and now the BJP. They were trying to visit that part. All I heard through the day was general complaints. Not a single word on the allegations that have been made in the last 10-12 days,” said Ghosh. “The CPM and the BJP are working hand in hand.”

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