Who Is Sheikh Shahjahan? TMC Strongman Evading Arrest In Sandeshkhali Sexual Violence Allegations

Who Is Sheikh Shahjahan? TMC Strongman Evading Arrest In Sandeshkhali Sexual Violence Allegations

Shahjahan, a prominent figure within the TMC, holds considerable sway extending from Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas to Malancha in South 24 Parganas.

Tejas JoshiUpdated: Thursday, February 22, 2024, 04:51 PM IST
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Sandeshkhali Island, nestled in the Sundarbans of West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district, was relatively obscure until recently. However, over the past week, it has become a focal point of attention due to allegations of harassment and exploitation involving local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders. This controversy has also become a significant battleground between the TMC and the opposition, particularly the BJP.

In the midst of the accusations and rebuttals, there is a central figure at the heart of the controversy: Sheikh Shahjahan, who is currently evading authorities.

But, who is Sheikh Shahjahan?

Shahjahan, a prominent figure within the TMC, holds considerable sway extending from Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas to Malancha in South 24 Parganas. He is widely recognized as the party's key figure in the region, with involvement in diverse sectors including fisheries, brick kilns, transportation, and vegetable syndicates. His trajectory has been noteworthy, commencing in 1999 as a trekker driver and part-time vegetable vendor before venturing into politics in 2003, inspired by his uncle Moslem Sheikh's affiliation with the CPM and subsequent election as panchayat pradhan.

“Shahjahan quit his driver’s job. He turned into a goon, controlling local bheris and dealing in vested land. Soon, he grew into a prominent figure in North 24 Parganas. He, along with his uncle, had such a strong hold on the area that even when Left lost back-to-back elections from 2009, they continued to remain in office in his part of North 24 Parganas,” a Trinamool functionary in the district revealed to the Times of India.

Despite electoral setbacks for the Left, Shahjahan and his uncle sustained their dominance, garnering support from villagers for their philanthropic endeavors and employment initiatives. In 2013, Shahjahan aligned himself with the Trinamool Congress led by Jyotipriya Mullick, breaking away from his uncle's association with the CPM. Establishing his own faction within the party, Shahjahan continued to expand his influence and business ventures while assuming various roles within the TMC hierarchy. According to the TOI report, Shahjahan's contributions have been pivotal in the party's electoral victories.

With numerous legal cases against him, ranging from assault to murder, Shahjahan's influence in the region was such that in 2021, he even had a market renamed after himself.

Journey of Shahjahan and his rise

Shahjahan's rise to power in Sandeshkhali began before the Trinamool Congress's ascent to authority, with limited information available about his educational background. He initially garnered attention in the early 2000s, collecting fares from passengers along the Sandeshkhali-Sarberia route. Shahjahan, propelled by his uncle Moslem Sheikh's influence, began overseeing the local fish trade, gradually emerging from his uncle's shadow and becoming known for his philanthropic gestures and community assistance.

Around 2010, sensing the changing political landscape, Shahjahan distanced himself from the ruling CPM and aligned with the Trinamool Congress, under the watchful eye of Jyotipriya Mallick. His transition to the Trinamool marked a significant shift in the local political dynamic, ultimately leading to his uncle's defection to the same party.

Accompanied by allegations of amassing wealth through dubious means, Shahjahan's assets included multiple luxurious residences, significant land holdings, and substantial cash and jewelry assets. He reportedly earned income from various ventures, including brick kilns and fisheries, with his associates allegedly extorting fees from fish traders under his command. Additionally, Shahjahan faced accusations of forcibly acquiring land for fish farming, resulting in grievances from local farmers who were coerced into abandoning traditional agriculture.

The extortion racket extended to government welfare schemes, with residents alleging that Shahjahan's network siphoned off a significant portion of allocated funds, leaving beneficiaries with meager sums. Those who dared to protest faced violent reprisals from Shahjahan's enforcers.

Shahjahan's whereabouts became uncertain following a mob attack on Enforcement Directorate officials during a raid on his residence in January. While his associates have been apprehended, Shahjahan remains elusive, with ongoing investigations into the allegations of harassment and exploitation, including a recent complaint of rape.

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