Arrest Trinamool Strongman Sheikh Shahjahan, Says Calcutta High Court

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Sheikh Shahjahan is a local Trinamool Congress leader (File).

There is no order stopping Bengal Police from arresting Sheikh Shahjahan – the main accused in sexual assault and land grab allegations from Sandeshkhali – the Calcutta High Court has said.

“We clarify there is no stay on arrest in any proceeding. There is only a first information report and he (Shahjahan) has been named as an accused. Obviously he needs to be arrested,” the court said.

The court’s clarification comes after Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee made an astonishing claim Sunday night – that the Bengal government is unable to arrest Shahjahan because the court had “tied the hands the police”.

In comments slammed by the opposition BJP as “contempt of court”, Mr Banerjee seemed to blame the High Court for delaying the Sandeshkhali inquiries – by staying its order to form a SIT to probe the January 5 attack on the Enforcement Directorate team.

The court was told today 43 FIRs were registered till December last year, of which 42 had resulted in charge-sheets. “As far as grabbing land of tribal community members, seven cases were started,” the court was told, “Since February 8, 24 cases of land grabbing and various sections were filed.”

To this the court observed drily, “Surprising no arrests were made in four years.”

On Sunday Mr Banerjee said, “…those calling for Shahjahan’s arrest should make an appointment and ask the court why this stay was granted. Was it to ensure Bharatiya Janata Party could secure mileage from this incident?” and insisted the Trinamool is not shielding its on-the-run strongman.

“If the High Court ties hands of state administration (then) what can be done? After the January 5 incident – when it was claimed ED officers were attacked – the central agency filed a complaint and the High Court ordered the constitution of a SIT with state police and central agencies.”

“Around 10-12 days later ED appealed for stay in the High Court. The plea was accepted. This means they did not want any investigation, arrest, summons, or interrogation,” Mr Banerjee continued.

“If High Court ties hands of state police, how can they arrest anyone?” he asked again, pointing to the arrests of Trinamool leaders Uttam Sardar and Shibu Hazra. “I want to put this on record… Trinamool is not guarding Shahjahan. Judiciary is. Lift the stay and see what police does next…” Mr Banerjee said.

The court’s next hearing in this case had been set for March 6

Mr Banerjee also said the authorities had to be given “at least a month” to make arrests, and referred to the alleged Saradha chit fund scam, into which the ED’s inquiries began in 2013. He claimed a “dual policy” and claimed the state police force never not get similar leeway in its investigations.

Critics of the ruling Trinamool have rebutted Mr Banerjee’s arguments, pointing out the court had not issued a stay on investigative process, or the arrest of any individual, including Sheikh Shahjahan.

Mr Banerjee’s comments – which came after Bengal Police arrested party leader Ajit Maity on charges of grabbing land from villagers – were labelled by opposition leaders as contempt of court.

READ | Trinamool Leader Ajit Maity Arrested In Sandeshkhali Land Grab Case

“He is not from the Government. He is speaking on behalf of his party. He is the shining jewel of the Trinamool Congress. The Trinamool cannot remove Shahjahan,” the BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya said.

Meanwhile, Mr Banerjee’s attacks did not stop with targeting the ED and the Calcutta High Court. He also took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will hold three rallies in Bengal in early March; this will be days before the Election Commission announces dates for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

Citing the arrests of Partha Chatterjee and Jyotipriya Mallick – by the ED in July 2022 and October 2023 on money laundering and corruption charges – Mr Banerjee declared his party did not “spare” them, unlike the BJP, which inducted its former rivals, after sometimes having “branded them as thieves”.

“This is Modiji‘s guarantee. All thieves and corrupt people can join BJP and wash off sins…”

Significantly, the Trinamool leader also took swipes at other opposition leaders, including the CPIM, which is a member of the INDIA bloc and is supposed to be an ally of his party.

“What were opposition leaders doing? Till 2016, Sandeshkhali had a CPIM MLA. Why didn’t they raise the allegations? Suvendu Adhikari (who was seen as Ms Banerjee’s close aide before he jumped to the BJP) has photographs with Shahjahan. Why didn’t he speak out after leaving Trinamool?”

Mr Banerjee also promised to visit Sandeshkhali after the Trinamool’s March 10 rally at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground. He said “I feel it is not prudent” to visit the volatile area at this time.

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