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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 23 April 2024

Suvendu Adhikari, Brinda Karat reach Sandeshkhali, but only after high court steps in with directive

Police clamp section 144 on the North 24-Parganas island in the morning; leader of the Opposition cries foul, says preventing them from going a violation of court orders

Arnab Ganguly Calcutta Published 20.02.24, 01:48 PM
Brinda Karat (left) and Suvendu Adhikari

Brinda Karat (left) and Suvendu Adhikari TTO graphics

Suvendu Adhikari struck third time lucky in his attempt to visit Sandeshkhali on Tuesday but not before the intervention of the Calcutta High Court that issued a directive which prompted the police to finally allow Bengal's leader of the Opposition to visit the North 24-Parganas island where local women have accused ruling Trinamul leaders of sexual assault, among other crimes.

After being prevented earlier, Adhikari, with fellow BJP lawmaker Shankar Ghosh, could finally set foot on the island in the afternoon following a directive isued by a division bench led by chief justice TV Sivagnanam. This was after the state administration had imposed Section 144 to prohibit gatherings of more than four people.

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Following Adhikari, CPM leader Brinda Karat too was allowed to enter Sandeshkhali with other leaders.

“All of Shahjahan’s escape routes have been blocked. The high court has ordered him to surrender,” Adhikari said, on reaching Sandeshkhali.

“Are you living in peace or not? Stay strong,” Adhikari told one of the villagers. “What’s going on? What’s happening? Everything will change. People will live in peace. The goons will be arrested.”

Earlier in the day Adhikari, armed with an earlier court order, was stopped at Dhamakhali on his third attempt to reach Bengal’s latest political hotspot. Then, joined by BJP lawmakers Agnimitra Paul, Shankar Ghosh, Bishal Lama, Sumita Sinha Roy and Tapasi Mandal, they squatted on the road near the Dhamakhali ferry ghat, which was barricaded by the police.

Adhikari tried to talk to the police personnel present, while public announcements were made informing the people that Section 144 had been re-imposed and asked the residents to cooperate. Adhikari said he will squat on the road till 12.10 pm.

“My name is Suvendu Adhikari… I am the leader of Opposition. This is the court order I can visit Sandeshkhali,” Adhikari was heard on camera.

According to the order issued by Justice Kaushik Chanda, Adhikari and MLA Shankar Ghosh could visit Sandeshkhali block-II and the gram panchayat.

A senior IPS officer, identified as Jasprit Singh, Senior Superintendent of Intelligence Bureau informed the leader of Opposition, “Section 144 has been imposed since 9am. You cannot visit. The state has appealed,” the officer said.

“Your version is totally illegal. You are challenging high court verdict. The division bench till this time has not issued any order (against the single bench verdict). This is very bad practice. We are all law-abiding people. The high court permission is separate (issue). I have it with me. There is no stay (on that order) but you have stopped me. Section 144 was imposed at 9am. That has got nothing to do with me and Ghosh,” Adhikari was heard telling the officer.

Sandeshkhali has been in the iron grip of Trinamul strongman and North 24-Parganas zilla parishad functionary Sheikh Shahjahan for over a decade. An accused in the multi-crore ration scam, Shahjahan has been absconding since January 5 when an Enforcement Directorate team was attacked by Shahjahan’s supporters.

In the absence of Shahjahan, local residents living under his reign of terror came out of their homes demanding his arrest. The women have alleged many of them were forced to visit the party office during nights and were subjected to sexual assault.

Teams from the National Commission for Women and the National SC/ST Commission have visited Sandeshkhali and raised the demand for President’s rule.

CPM politburo member Brinda Karat, along with other members of the party’s women’s organisation, was also stopped at Dhamakhali. “A female police officer told us, if we go to Sandeshkhali, there will be breach of peace. Breach of peace happened when the women of Sandeshkhali were summoned to the Trinamul party office and sexually assaulted,” Brinda said.

The CPM politburo member said she had spoken to some women from the villages (of Sandeshkhali) a few days back. "They requested me to visit. They wanted to share the tormenting experience that they went through. We are not here to disrupt law and order. This is the fight for justice,” she said.

Brinda said the party will decide on whether to move court or carry on with the agitation on the street. On February 11, when CPM cadres led by the party’s youth wing state secretary, Minakshi Mukherjee, had tried to enter Sandeshkhali they were stopped and got engaged in a scuffle with the police. The former CPM MLA from Sandeshkhali Nirapada Sardar was later arrested.

“We only want to meet the victims of sexual assault. This is wrong,” Brinda said. “I cannot believe a female chief minister is not willing to investigate allegations of sexual assault against women and is talking of conspiracy. This is unprecedented. I have been working for women’s rights for 50 years, never have I seen this before.”

Brinda did not agree with the demand for President’s Rule as raised by the BJP and the two national commissions which have visited Sandeshkhali. “The women’s commission did not go to Manipur or Uttar Pradesh. President’s rule is BJP’s rule. When people are resisting, then President’s Rule is not the alternative,’ she said.

“No government can act so blatantly. Why can’t the police find Sheikh Shahjahan?” asked Brinda.

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