TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan arrested after 50-day manhunt

| Updated: 29 February, 2024 12:49 pm IST

New Delhi : Sheikh Shahjahan, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and former panchayat pradhan of Sandeshkhali, was arrested on Thursday, 29 February 2024, by a special team of the West Bengal Police from a house in Minakhan in North 24 Parganas district. He was on the run for more than 50 days after he and his associates allegedly attacked the Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials who were investigating the case of sexual violence and land grabbing against him.

According to the police, Sheikh Shahjahan and his supporters had sexually assaulted and tortured several women in Sandeshkhali, a village in the Sundarbans, and had also grabbed their land and property by force. The ED had registered a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against him and his associates for allegedly amassing illegal wealth through these crimes.

On January 7, 2024, a team of ED officials raided Sheikh Shahjahan’s house and office in Sandeshkhali, but they were met with violent resistance from his supporters, who pelted stones, fired bullets, and hurled bombs at them. The ED officials had to retreat and seek the help of the local police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to continue the raid. The raid had lasted for more than 12 hours and had resulted in the seizure of several documents, cash, gold, and weapons from Sheikh Shahjahan’s premises.

However, Sheikh Shahjahan and his close aides had managed to escape from the spot and had gone into hiding. The police had launched a massive manhunt to nab him and had announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for any information leading to his arrest. The police had also issued a lookout notice against him and had alerted all the airports, railway stations, and border checkpoints to prevent him from fleeing the state or the country.

The police had received a tip-off on Thursday morning that Sheikh Shahjahan was hiding in a house in Minakhan, about 40 km from Sandeshkhali. A special team of the state police, led by the Superintendent of Police of North 24 Parganas, had raided the house and arrested him without any resistance. The police had also recovered a revolver, a mobile phone, and some cash from his possession. He was taken to the ED office in Kolkata for interrogation and was later produced before a special PMLA court, which remanded him to 14 days of judicial custody.

The arrest of Sheikh Shahjahan has sparked a political controversy between the ruling TMC and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The TMC has claimed that the state police had acted swiftly as soon as the legal hurdles were cleared by the court and that the party had zero tolerance for any crime or corruption. The TMC has also accused the BJP of trying to malign the image of the party and the state government by spreading false propaganda and instigating violence in Sandeshkhali.

The BJP, on the other hand, has alleged that the arrest of Sheikh Shahjahan was a scripted drama and that the TMC and the state police were shielding the culprits for a long time. The BJP has also demanded a CBI probe into the case and has said that the ED should be given full protection and cooperation to unearth the truth. The BJP has also expressed solidarity with the victims of Sandeshkhali and has promised to provide them justice and compensation if the party comes to power in the state.

The situation in Sandeshkhali remains tense as the villagers have been protesting against the atrocities committed by Sheikh Shahjahan and his supporters. The villagers have also demanded the arrest of all the accused and the recovery of their land and property. The police and the CRPF have been deployed in the area to maintain law and order and to prevent any untoward incidents.

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