Minister in Jail, Leader on the Run: Post Sandeshkhali and Bhangar, is TMC’s South Bengal Fort Crumbling? – News18

Senior ministers and some alleged strongmen of the Trinamool Congress, who were in-charge of the organisation and polls for two districts — South 24 Pargana and North 24 Pargana — are either behind bars or on the run.

Jyoti Priya Mallick aka Balu, the minister in-charge of Bengal’s largest district with five Lok Sabha constituencies, is in jail now. He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the ration scam. In his absence, one of his close aides, locally known as his “henchman” — Sheikh Shahjahan — was calling the shots in two of the most important blocks in the district.

However, things took a turn for the worse after he allegedly orchestrated an attack on on-duty ED officers in early January. Following this, allegations of crimes against women and land grabbing started pouring in against Shahjahan who is on the run now for 49 days.

Trinamool’s fort in south Bengal crumbling? TMC says otherwise

The two most important and sensitive districts of south Bengal — South and North 24 Pargana — include a total of 10 Lok Sabha seats and have always been locally controlled and managed by senior Trinamool Congress leaders like Shahjahan, Arabul Islam, Saokat Mollah and some others.

Of these leaders, Saokat and Arabul are MLA and ex-MLA respectively while Shajahan is a senior member of the Zila Parishad.

However, the panchayat poll-centric violence in Bhangar last year, Mallick’s arrest and Sandeshkhali upheaval over allegations of land grabbing and sexual assault, seem to have dealt a body blow to the party structure in the area.

But senior Trinamool leaders are confident that Sandeshkhali will “settle” soon and people will forget Shahjahan as the incidents and allegations are “partly fabricated by the BJP and CPM”.

Talking to News18, Mollah said: “Our party structure is intact. There is nothing to worry about.”

Another senior Trinamool Congress leader of the area said, “There were certain issues in the area, but most of the allegations, if not all, are partly fabricated. The party is probing them. The administration is also doing its job. Everything will settle soon. Sandeshkhali block has 11 panchayats, of which we faced a little trouble in some booths in one panchayat. The rest is ours.”

Arabul, an ex-MLA, was arrested post the violent clashes in Bhangar in South 24 Pargana district last year. He is still in jail. Mollah, Trinamool MLA from Canning and senior leader in the party, holds the charge for South 24 Pargana district.

All three of them have several allegations of violence against them. However, there are no FIRs as such, barring against Arabul Islam, who is behind bars now. Mollah, known to be close to Trinamool MP and party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, is also believed to be a leader who has “excellent organisational capacity” and can mobilise cadres. Mollah is one of the trusted lieutenants of the party who manages several areas of South 24 Pargana district.

Sandeshkhali to Bhangar: The political flashpoints

For context, one needs to understand why these two districts are the most crucial for the ruling Trinamool Congress. These two districts account for 10 Lok Sabha seats, over 60 assembly constituencies and 510 gram panchayats.

The political and administrative stakes are high as these two districts are the keys to south Bengal and cover almost one-fourth of Bengal’s Lok Sabha seats. Moreover, some blocks and several assembly segments across the districts are dominated by Muslims. Muslims constitute almost 30 per cent of Bengal’s vote share and contribute a lion’s share to Mamata Banerjee’s political calculation.

Areas like Sandeshkhali, Hingalganj, Basanti, Bhangar — all political flashpoints of South Bengal — are also seen as ‘money bags’ for any political party that ruled the state. Capturing fish ponds, grabbing land have been the way to rule over these places and all such actions continued through intimidation and unabated violence by both Left Front and Trinamool. The geographical location and remote and interior nature of the rural side of these districts make ‘absolute political control’ easy in the area, said a senior police officer who worked in the region.

Both the districts are also located near the international border with Bangladesh, which makes some of the areas strategically vulnerable.