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regular-article-logo Saturday, 13 April 2024

The who, why and how of Sandeshkhali's TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh

Sheikh was made the upa-pradhan (deputy head) of the panchayat marking his rise in the TMC and then the chief of the party's Sandeshkhali unit, in 2022, he won a seat in the Zilla Parishad

PTI Calcutta Published 01.03.24, 02:10 PM
Shajahan Sheikh.

Shajahan Sheikh. File picture.

The meteoric rise of Shajahan Sheikh from a modest background of a helper in a local transport company to becoming the so-called tiger' of Sandeshkhali is what Bollywood film scripts are made of. And so does his fall.

Sheikh, a key accused in sexual assault and land grab in Sandeshkhali, was arrested in the early hours of Thursday after being on the run for 55 days that witnessed large-scale protests by women.

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He was remanded to 10 days of police custody by a local court. Following his arrest, the TMC also removed Sheikh from all party positions.

The rise of Sheikh started towards the fag end of the erstwhile Left Front rule in Bengal. After spending a few years as a helper in passenger vehicle services from Sandeshkhali to Sarberia, he got into the fish business.

"One of his maternal uncles was into pisciculture and Shajahan started helping him. After a few years and rapid development in business, they became No. 1 in the trade in Sandeshkhali area," a retired police officer, who was posted in the North 24 Parganas district during that time, told PTI.

Sheikh began his own baby shrimp business by 2004, when he had already created a "Robinhood-like" image in Sandeshkhali, a riverine area in North 24 Parganas district.

On his family background, the ex-police officer hinted at Sheikh's roots in Bangladesh, from where he allegedly crossed the borders to come to West Bengal during the late 90s.

His proximity with a local CPI(M) MLA is believed to have helped him develop a "controlling power" in the brick kiln industry in the area.

However, after the Trinamul Congress came to power in 2011, ending the 34-year Left Front rule in the state, Sheikh faced problems continuing his domination in the area. So, he switched sides in 2013.

When contacted, a senior leader of the TMC, who did not want not to be named, claimed that a former minister who used to wield considerable influence in the region and is currently in jail in a corruption case had played a vital role in the induction of Sheikh into the TMC.

"It was him (the ex-minister) who realised that Shajahan would help the party garner minority votes in Sandeshkhali. Shajahan also played a crucial role in the party's victory in the Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. As a reward, he was given a ticket to fight the panchayat elections and he won with flying colours," he said.

Sheikh was made the upa-pradhan (deputy head) of the panchayat marking his rise in the TMC and then the chief of the party's Sandeshkhali unit. In 2022, he won a seat in the Zilla Parishad.

By then, he had got back the power to pull strings in local fishery units, including baby shrimp business, and brick kilns.

"He had under his control nearly 200 fishery units, local wholesale fish markets, processing centres for baby shrimps as well as supplying them to fish farmers in all corners of the state," the TMC leader said.

Known for his fondness of motorbikes, Sheikh owns nearly 20 two-wheelers and a few four-wheelers, an officer in Basirhat Police District said.

According to documents he had submitted to the State Election Commission before the panchayat polls held last year, Sheikh is a businessman having a yearly turnover of Rs 19.8 lakh and bank deposits of more than Rs 1.9 crore and owner of around 43 bighas of land and a house at Sarberia in Sandeshkhali area.

During his rise in and around Sandeshkhali, Shajahan started gaining recognition as the messiah as well as the last word in family and land disputes.

"Shajahan is the person who ensured that Sandeskhali is free from any opposition. A sense of fear around 'Bhai' whom even the police used to refer to his assistance whenever locals approached them with any complaint," veteran CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said.

Incidentally, after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Sheikh was named in an FIR following clashes between TMC and BJP activists from the locality resulting in the deaths of two persons.

On January 5 this year, while trying to enter Sheikh's residence, a team of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had to face resistance and assault from the villagers. They went there as part of investigations into the ration distribution scam.

Weeks after, women started protesting and gheraoed the local police stations demanding the immediate arrest of Sheikh and his associates Shibaprasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar holding them responsible for land grabbing and gang-raping women.

This led the opposition parties in Bengal to escalate their demands to arrest Sheikh and his men immediately.

The BJP, CP(IM), and the Congress alleged that the ruling TMC administration has been "giving protection" to Shajahan and his men while some of the TMC leaders claimed that Shajahan was wrongfully framed by the opposition parties who have joined hands keeping in mind the ensuing Lok Sabha elections.

Shajahan was on the run since then until police picked him up from Minakah, around 30 km from Sandeshkhali, early Thursday.

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