Editorial: From Sindur To Sandeshkhali

Editorial: From Sindur To Sandeshkhali

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Wednesday, February 21, 2024, 10:07 PM IST
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West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee | PTI

Is it Mamata Banerjee’s Sindur moment? It could well be, or what had happened in Singur and Nandigram was the forced acquisition of small farmers’ lands for a small car project of the Tatas by the Jyoti Basu Government. The violent protests triggered by the decision sealed the fate of the Marxist government. In the case of Sandeshkhali, aside from the goons of the Trinamool Congress forcibly taking over the small pieces of lands of the poor, there is abduction and rape of the SC/ST women and the theft of monthly rations and other benefits the state and central governments provide to the needy. In several ways, the lawlessness, extortion and broad day light exploitation of women in Sandheshkhali, a village in North 24 Parganas, about 70 kilometers from Kolkata, is far more heinous and shocking. The main kingpin, one Sheikh Shahjahan and others named by some of the women victims are prominent members of the ruling Trinamool Congress. Till only a few days ago, when the Sandheshkhali first hit the national headlines, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was publicly defending the main accused, Shahjahan, declaring that he was a loyal TMC worker, and the BJP, Marxists and the Congress leaders were falsely accusing him of wrong-doing. Shahjahan is a close associate of a former West Bengal Food Minister who is being probed for systematically diverting food rations of tens of thousands of poor people, and pocketing the proceeds from its sale. Shahjahan was behind the attack on an ED party on January 5. Actively involved in the food ration scam, Shahjahan is allegedly hiding the illicit money of the former minister. The ED officials were attacked by an armed mob of about 2,000 supporters of Shahjahan, when they had gone to search his house, forcing them to run for their lives while their vehicles were set on fire. The local police failed to protect the ED officials. Indeed, the Sandeshkhali police too took their orders from the local TMC strongman, refusing to register a complaint whenever a particularly intrepid villager sought to lodge an FIR about land grab or sexual molestation of a woman. In fact, such a person would immediately face the wrath of Shahjahan’s goons for daring to lodge a police complaint against the undeclared ruler of Sandeshkhali. Reports by various political parties after their leaders visited the village spoke about how the local don openly boasted that he was a Bangladeshi, that he provides protection to illegal Bangladeshis who cross over from the nearby open international border and that he arranges their Aadhaar cards and rations cards, etc. In short, a one-man self-declared ruler of Sandeshkhali without whose writ nothing moved, neither in the local civil administration nor in police. Local women from the SC/ST community in particular were summoned at will be the henchmen of the don to quench their lust. At least two such hoods of Shahjahan were recently arrested by the police following a national outcry at the jungle raj in West Bengal. Just as the Marxists finally paid the price after 34 years in power for empowering their cadres to run extortion rackets from the biggest towns to the smallest village; whether building a house or working in a factory or seeking admission for your child in school ordinary people had to grease the palms of the CPI(M)’s goons. Since 2011, when she first became chief minister, Mamata had embraced the same goons and thugs who had switched loyalty from the CPI(M) to the TMC. Nothing has changed in West Bengal. Nothing. Hopefully, she can control her cadres before she too meets the fate of the Marxists.

That she was forced to order the arrest of a couple of aides of Shahjahan, who still continues to be at large, was only due to the public pressure exerted by the Opposition parties. Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, she could not have ignored the national outcry against the shameful goondaraj in a cluster of villages a short distance away from the seat of the State Government. It is all the more regrettable that the women of a particular religion should have become prey to the sexual violence of the TMC goons when a woman herself heads the State government. Happily, the Calcutta High Court is monitoring the scandal, which actually reflects the sordid state of affairs in West Bengal. Empowering party cadres to run a state-wide extortion racket, allowing them to become the venal face of the government, was the failure of Jyoti Basu which eventually scarred his long stint in power. It has taken Mamata Banerjee less than half of the Marxists long run in government to replicate that disgrace model of non-governance. This must stop. Or else, the people would vote sensibly to penalise her for many Sandeshkhalis in West Bengal.

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