December 03, 2023

WB: Jaynagar Brings Back Memories of Bogtui Carnage

Subinoy Moulik

THE killing of a local Trinamool Congress leader in Jaynagar in South 24-Parganas district and the events in its aftermath bring back the memories of the carnage that took place at Bogtui village under Rampurhat sub-division in Birbhum district on March 21 last year. In Bogtui at least 10 people, including women and children, were burnt alive and their houses torched in retaliation for the killing of TMC leader Bhadu Sheikh.  Investigations have later revealed that Bhadu Sheikh’s murder itself was the fallout of a rivalry between him and his political associates over dubious land deals, illegal businesses, and share of extortion money.

In the early morning of November 13, Trinamool leader Saifuddin Lashkar was shot dead at close range at Bangalburi junction in Bamangachi area of Jaynagar. Saifuddin was the ‘anchal’ (area) president of the Trinamool. He was also a panchayat member. Within hours, Saifuddin’s followers beat up, dragged and lynched to death one Sahabuddin Sheikh, suspected to be the killer. Another person namely Sahrul Sheikh was nearly clubbed to death by the mob. The police arrived just in time to drag him away. He underwent treatment at Padmerhat Rural Hospital and was later taken into police custody.

The revenge for Saifuddin’s murder was not over yet. After severely beating the two, they raided Daluakhaki village about four kilometres away. They came charging at the village from all directions. Many of the men in the village had gone out to work. Those who had remained ran away for their lives through paddy fields. The Trinamool men attacked women, many of whom were busy cooking. Rice pots were kicked away. They set fire to haystacks, doors, and beds. At least 20 houses were ransacked and set ablaze by the frenzied Trinamool mob, “mourning the leader’s murder”. Women were manhandled, verbally abused and hit with iron rods. The children found on the way were tossed into the pond. They did not even allow the injured to be taken to the hospital. The electricity was cut off. Not only this, the Trinamool mob prevented the fire brigade from coming during the rampage in Daluakhaki for about three and a half hours. Even though the police station was only 12 km away, the police did not come.

Incidentally, from an ordinary muhuri (clerk) in Baruipur court to a man of astonishing affluence and authority, Saifuddin Laskar’s rapid rise from rags to riches after 2011 is not quite unfamiliar in a state going headlong to lower depths under unbridled criminalisation and unlimited corruption. His meteoric rise was further accelerated in 2018 after he was made Trinamool president of Bamangachi area. His wife won the panchayat polls and became the pradhan. There was no looking back for him thereafter.  She was re-elected to the post this year while he got himself elected as a member. He allegedly had been the ‘dakmaster’ (euphemism for extortionist) for the local police for some time. He was often seen hobnobbing with police officers. On the other hand, those whose houses were attacked in Daluakhaki are known in the area as sympathizers and supporters of the CPI(M).

Though the Trinamool Congress leadership put the blame squarely on the CPI(M) alleging that the “Marxists” wanted to capture this area politically by killing Saifuddin who was a popular leader, yet subsequent reports filtering out of the police investigations suggest the murder to be a result of inner fighting within the ruling party. According to informed sources, it was impossible for any unknown person to have the courage to attack him near his house at 5:30 in the morning. The fact that Saifuddin went alone to pray in the mosque at that time was something only his close associates and party workers knew. It was just impossible that Daluakhaki’s people would come from a village four kilometres away and attack him at that time.

There are strong reasons to believe that Saifuddin’s murder is the outcome of long-running rivalry over land grabbing, panchayat money and territorial domination. Part of Jaynagar-I block is within Baruipur East Assembly constituency. Another part is in the Canning East Assembly Constituency. Baruipur East MLA is Bivas Sardar aka Bhobo. And the Canning East MLA is Saokat Mollah. Trinamool Congress in this area has been vertically divided into two parts due to the rivalry between the two over ‘domination’ of Jaynagar-I block. While Saokat Molla claimed, "CPM is responsible for the murder of Saifuddin”, Bivas Sardar said, “It is the work of miscreants.” The verbal difference between the two statements is especially significant.

“It is the outcome of a fight between two local TMC MLAs to control the huge syndicate empire that ranges from soil smuggling to extortion rackets and other underworld activities. After killing the rival leader, the mastermind found it convenient to direct the mob anger to a village where the CPI(M) has some followers. Otherwise, in most villages in this area people are not allowed to raise their voice. They are deprived of their democratic rights. TMC goons vote for them in elections,” said CPI (M) Central Committee member Sujan Chakraborty. Condemning the murder, he said that everyone knows Saifuddin Lashkar as a mafia leader and ‘dakmaster’ working for the police. Internal bickering killed him. He demanded a proper investigation. After the murder, the Trinamool goons attacked Daluakhaki village, about four kilometres away. At least 20 houses were looted and set on fire and. Books and copies of students were burnt to ashes. Where was the police then, he wondered. Sahabuddin Sheikh, whose family claims that they are Trinamool supporters, was beaten to death. That too is murder. Why didn't the police arrest anyone in that incident, he wanted to know.

South 24 Parganas district secretary Shamik Lahiri said such killing, though reprehensible, is not something new in Jaynagar. Trinamool MLA Biswanath Das’s car stopped for fuel at Jaynagar petrol pump on December 14, 2018. At that time, unidentified gunmen fired at the MLA’s car. Three companions of the MLA were killed. The miscreants misjudged that the MLA was inside and opened fire. He said the police administration should be held accountable as to how it was possible to carry out such barbaric destruction in a village four kilometres away in the name of avenging the murder. He questioned why the police could not arrest anyone who attacked the village even two days after the incident.

Speaking to the reporters a day after the incident, CPI(M) state secretary Mohammad Salim said a considerable section of the state’s population is once again returning to the Left fold against the Trinamool-BJP politics of theft, looting, corruption and communal division. As the recent advance in the panchayat elections and support for the Left in the meetings and rallies is increasing, the Trinamool-BJP is suffering from panic. Therefore, an attempt is being made to malign the CPI(M) in a planned manner. Trinamool goons have burnt down the houses of innocent CPI(M) workers and supporters in Jaynagar. Unspeakable torture was carried out on them.  Their houses were burnt. Furniture and food items such as rice, dal, flour, oil and salt were looted from the houses. Small children were not spared. Many people have been displaced from the area. We stand by the affected party workers. They have to be sent back home. Salim said that relief collection will also be done for them.

Sujan Chakraborty and the CPI(M) South 24 Parganas district leadership tried to take the evicted villagers back to their homes on November 21, but were stopped by the police. “We will wait for two days and if these people are not allowed to go back to their villages with proper security, there will be a larger agitation,” Chakraborty warned. On November 22, people of Daluakhaki were able to return home, but the police stopped the CPI(M) leadership who accompanied them. On November 21st night itself, 25 women of Daluakhaki filed a complaint at the police station in the presence of CPI(M) leaders Sujan Chakraborty, Shamik Lahiri, Kanti Ganguly and others. They demanded that the criminals be arrested quickly and punished severely.

The inhumane and arbitrary treatment by the administration did not stop there. After the incident neither the CPI(M) nor the ISF leadership was allowed to reach the area. BJP, of course, remained completely silent on this incident. Many men of the village are still spending their days evicted. Despite all efforts to stand by the victims with relief, no one was able to enter the village due to police obstruction. After nine days of the incident, a delegation of SFI reached the village with relief for the first time. The police of Jaynagar police station initially stopped the SFI leadership at Gudam’s Hat intersection, but due to their unyielding pressure, they were later forced to allow them to enter the village. Later, this obstacle was partially removed by the intervention of the court. AIDWA and other civil society groups and finally a CPI(M) delegation were able to reach the village and distribute relief.

Three days after the incident, the police arrested Daluakhaki resident Anisur Lashkar and another person as the “masterminds” of the murder. Reacting to the arrest, CPI(M) South 24 Parganas district secretary Shamik Lahiri said, “Even before the investigation started, the TMC tried to hide its inner fighting and pointed fingers towards the CPI(M). Now, the police are trying to toe the line of TMC leaders. Is Anisur Lashkar so stupid that he was going from Jaynagar to Sandeshkhali and from there to Ranaghat with his phone on so that it becomes easier for the police to track and nab him? I repeat that the police should conduct an investigation with an open mind,” he said.

Eight days later, under pressure from villagers and various organisations including the CPI(M), the police arrested three people in connection with that attack and vandalism at Daluakhaki despite the fact that this attack was carried out by many more people. The affected women had filed a complaint in the name of 40 people. Morsalim, a member of Bamangachi panchayat, is one of the accused. But he was not caught by the police. No one has been arrested yet in the case of one person being beaten to death on the spot on the day of the murder. Despite having been forced to live under the open sky with almost no belongings to speak of, the morale of the affected villagers in Daluakhaki remains resilient. “We shall never change our political beliefs, come what may,” they say resoundingly.