DC Edit | Sandeshkhali residents have reason to cheer

The dramatic arrest of the former Trinamul Congress leader highlights the challenges of tackling criminal elements entrenched in political systems
The former Trinamul Congress strongman Sheikh Shahjahan, who was the centre of a long-running controversy over the Sandeshkhali region in the North 24-Parganas area of West Bengal is currently where he should be — in jail. The don-like figure with vast patronage was on the run for 55 days before the police arrested him in a drama that only tarnished the image of the existing political system in which criminal and underworld elements find easy refuge in politics.

The entire episode, which reeked of politics trumping law enforcement, was brought to a sort of climax only after the Calcutta high court ruled to clear clever misinterpretations of its earlier order that was projected as a stay on the don’s arrest.

In a series of orders, the high court tried to undo the veil the TMC government was trying to draw over a small island that Shahjahan seems to have ruled like a personal fiefdom, terrorising people, grabbing land, sexually assaulting women and even inciting a mob attack on an Enforcement Directorate team that had come to question him in the ration scam.

Making a virtue out of necessity, the TMC suspended the strongman for six years, but only after he had enjoyed protection from arrest for close to two months. Such was the political polarisation over the unseemly events of subjugation of helpless people that the ruling TMC was trying to fend off all opposition parties, including the Congress and the Left, by keeping the area out of bounds to all outsiders.

The ruling party, grappling with an image hit from the fallout of the incidents strung out by the influence of one of its local chieftains, may have acted with a measure of alacrity, but only after the court used its judicial powers to expose Shahjahan and leave him open to arrest by the Bengal police, CBI or ED.

The Bengal police may have acted to stop the chieftain falling into the hands of central enforcement agencies. Also, the Prime Minister’s visit to Bengal may have been a factor in Shahjahan’s arrest and unceremonious exit from TMC.

Shahjahan’s rise from political patronage of the Left and switching to TMC 10 years ago is not a unique phenomenon in India where criminal elements have thrived under political protection from parties of all hues. His case is unique only in that he may have gravitated to Bengal from Bangladesh, which is another sore point about illegal migration into eastern parts of India.

All political parties cynically use such incidents like those that took place in the terrorisation of Sandeshkhali people to score points against each other, only shriller in this case as it has taken place in a state ruled by a party that never misses an opportunity to take on the Centre.

Only a quick conviction in the cases he is facing — it is curious that stringent sections of the law against sexual molestation of women have not yet been registered against him despite Sandeshkhali women turning out in numbers on the streets to highlight this — can make Shahjahan’s case into a cause celebre with harsh lessons for political parties that extend patronage to such personalities.

To cleanse Indian politics of its nexus with criminal elements is a long and perhaps losing battle, as all parties have been guilty of sheltering such elements who can deliver local influence and votes. Shahjahan’s is just a test case towards an ideal of clean politics.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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