Sandeshkhali unrest: TMC strongman Shajahan arrested, sent to 10-day police custody by court

Absconding TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh arrested after 55-day run
TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh
TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh

Basirhat (WB) | TMC strongman Shajahan Sheikh, accused of sexual abuse and land grabbing in Sandeshkhali, was arrested in the early hours of Thursday after being on the run for 55 days that witnessed violent protests led by local women and a fierce political slugfest.

Additional Director-General of Police (South Bengal) Supratim Sarkar said Sheikh was arrested from a house in Bamanpukur in Minakhan police station area, around 30 km away from the island of Sandeshkhali on the outskirts of Sunderbans, in North 24 Parganas district.

Sheikh was hiding in the house along with a few associates, police said.

After the arrest, he was taken to the Basirhat court, which sent him to 10 days in police custody.

Sheikh, who has been at the centre of a massive political firestorm, came out of the lock-up around 10.40 am dressed in white kurta-pajama, and walked to the courtroom with policemen behind him. He also made a gesture with his hand at the media contingent waiting there.

After the hearing, which lasted for barely two minutes, he returned to the lock-up. Later, police whisked him away to an undisclosed destination.

Sheikh was taken into custody within 24 hours of the Calcutta High Court stating that the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or the West Bengal Police can arrest him.

Governor CV Ananda Bose, who had on Monday night given a 72-hour "deadline" to the state government for Sheikh's arrest, said, "There is always light at the end of the tunnel. I welcome it." "This is the beginning of an end. We have to put an end to the cycle of violence in Bengal. In parts of Bengal, the goons are ruling the roost. This must end and the gangsters should be put behind bars," he said.

The Trinamool Congress said the arrest was possible as the court cleared the decks, while the BJP dubbed it as "scripted".

"Due to a legal tangle, he couldn't be arrested initially. However, after the court clarified that there was no stay on his arrest, the West Bengal Police did its job. The opposition had earlier exploited the embargo on his arrest," TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh told PTI.

"We had said he would be arrested in seven days as we were confident of the ability of the state police," he added.

The opposition BJP claimed the state police were forced to arrest Sheikh because of its agitations.

"It was the TMC and the state police which were shielding the culprit. He has been arrested now as a part of a well-scripted story. The state administration was forced to arrest him because of the continuous agitation led by us," BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said.

Police said Sheikh was arrested in two cases lodged at the Nazat police station in connection with an assault on Enforcement Directorate (ED) officers on January 5 during a raid at his house in a ration scam case.

He was booked under IPC sections 147 (guilty of rioting), 148 (guilty of rioting being armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 307 (attempt to murder), 333 (whoever voluntarily causes grievous hurt to any person being a public servant) and 392 (robbery), they said.

Sheikh was traced with the help of his mobile phone's tower location, a police officer said.

"Shiekh was changing his location from time to time. He was spotted with the help of his mobile phone's tower location," he said.

Additional police forces were deployed in parts of Sandeshkhali, which Sheikh is accused of turning into his fiefdom over the last decade, to prevent any further flare-up of the situation. Prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC were also clamped in 49 areas on the island.

On Wednesday, a division bench presided by Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam directed that it will be "open to the CBI or the ED also to arrest" the absconding Sheikh, noting that he has been on the run for a substantial period.

The high court had on Monday directed the state police to arrest him.

BJP's co-incharge for West Bengal Amit Malviya also alleged that Sheikh was arrested by the state police to "preclude" ED and CBI from getting him.

Taking to X, Malviya, who is also the BJP's IT Cell head, said: "Is this an arrest? WB Police is escorting Sheikh Shahjahan like they would escort CM Mamata Banerjee. All these days, Sheikh Shahjahan was under the protection of WB Police.".

"As soon as Calcutta High Court allowed ED and CBI to arrest Sheikh Shahjahan, Mamata Banerjee's police took control of him. They hurriedly took him to a local Court, to preclude ED and CBI lawyers from getting in. No wonder women of #Sandeshkhali have no faith in Mamata Banerjee," he added.

Police said that over 100 complaints were registered against Sheikh over the last few weeks, which saw violent protests led by women demanding his arrest.

Several cases, including that of 376D (gang rape), have been filed against Sheikh and his associates based on these complaints.

His close aides Shibaprasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar were earlier arrested on similar charges.

His another associate, Ajit Maiti, was held in connection with the allegations of land grabbing.

Police said most of the complainants claimed that Sheikh forcibly took over land from the people, and tortured the women of the area.

He was at large since a mob of around 1,000 people attacked the ED team on January 5.

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