Mamata Banerjee vs BJP Over Sandeshkhali Accused Sheikh Shahjahan's Arrest

Sheikh Shahjahan and his associates have been accused of sexual atrocities on women and land grabbing in Sandeshkhali.

New Delhi:

After being on the run for 55 days, Trinamool Congress leader Sheikh Shahjahan was today arrested on charges of torture, sexual harassment, and land grabbing in Bengal's Sandeshkhali. The arrest has sparked a political slugfest between the ruling TMC and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In a late-night operation, a special team of the Bengal police arrested Sheikh Shahjahan from a house in North 24 Parganas district. The leader and his associates have been accused of sexual atrocities on women and land grabbing in Sandeshkhali.

Soon after the arrest, Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said that the state police went ahead with the arrest as soon as the legal hurdles were cleared.

"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," Mr Ghosh said.

Mr Ghosh accused the opposition of exploiting the earlier "embargo" on Sheikh's arrest.

The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday had directed that Sheikh could be arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED), or the West Bengal Police. This decision came after Monday's directive, where the court ordered the state police to arrest Sheikh within seven days.

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

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has dubbed the arrest a scripted drama. BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya claimed, "It was TMC and the state police which were shielding the culprits. He has been arrested now as a part of a well-scripted story."

The BJP had earlier alleged that Sheikh was in the "safe custody" of the state police since Tuesday night. The conflicting narratives between the two political parties have added fuel to the already intense political atmosphere in West Bengal.

The Sandeshkhali area, situated on the borders of the Sundarbans, has been gripped by unrest for over a month. The protests stem from accusations of sexual abuse and land grabbing against Shajahan Sheikh and his supporters.

Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had said that she has "never allowed injustice" and accused the Opposition party of inciting trouble on the island in North 24 Parganas district.

"I have never allowed injustice in my life. I sent (representatives of) the state women's commission (to Sandeshkhali) immediately and 17 people have been arrested," Ms Banerjee said in the Assembly, shortly after main Opposition BJP staged a walkout over the raging issue earlier this month.