Kolkata: In an alleged manifestation of intra-party feud in West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress, eight persons including two children were charred to death in Birbhum district on Tuesday, soon after the “murder” of a local leader of the party.
The incident triggered a political storm with the opposition BJP seeking imposition of President’s Rule in the state while the TMC termed the demand as conspiracy to malign it.
Opposition parties claimed that the TMC is behind the incident, a charge denied by the ruling party.
Describing the deaths as “horrific”, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar claimed that the state is in the grip of a culture of “violence and lawlessness”.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee requested Dhankhar to refrain from making unwarranted statements and alleged that his comments have “political overtones” supporting other political parties to browbeat the state government. DGP Manoj Malaviya told reporters that eight people, including two children, died in the early hours of Tuesday after their houses caught fire at Bogtui village near Rampurhat town.
The incident took place soon after the alleged murder of Trinamool Congress leader Bhadu Sheikh, deputy chief of the local panchayat, Malaviya said.
However, the DGP did not confirm it as “political violence”.
“We are not confirming that the fire was because of retaliation of other incidents. It is being looked into. If it was, it was due to a deep-rooted personal enmity,” he said.
At least eight houses caught fire and police officers and firemen had reached the place by midnight, Malaviya said.
“The situation is now under control, and a police picket was posted in the village. We are investigating how the houses caught fire and whether the incident is related to the death of the panchayat deputy chief of neighbouring Barshal village,” he said.
Asked about claims by some fire brigade personnel that 10 bodies were found, the top police officer said, seven bodies were recovered after the blaze was brought under control while three injured persons were rescued, one of whom died in a hospital.
The state government formed a three-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by ADG (CID) Gyanwant Singh to probe the matter.
In a letter to Dhankhar, the chief minister said, “It pains me that you have chosen an unfortunate incident in Rampurhat to pass sweeping, uncalled for comments on law and order situation in the state. This incident is unfortunate.” The incident triggered a fresh wave of war of words between the ruling TMC and the opposition parties.
Leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari demanded imposition of President’s Rule in the state.
“The lawless situation in the state proves imposition of President’s Rule is the only way to protect the state. Our delegation will visit the area tomorrow. We will also meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah over the issue,” he said alleging that the TMC is now killing its own people.
BJP legislators walked out of the West Bengal Assembly on Tuesday at the end of the first half of the day’s session demanding Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee make a statement on the floor of the House on the incident.
The allegations of involvement of the TMC in this tragedy are baseless, the party’s state general secretary and spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said.
“We condemn the deaths that seem to have happened due to an accidental fire. It was our party leader who was killed last night. The state government has formed an SIT to investigate the matter,” he said.
The TMC has sent a team of three MLAs headed by minister Firhad Hakim to the village to assess the situation.
CPI(M) state secretary Mohammed Salim said that the Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee will have to take responsibility for the deaths.
“The incident at Bogtui village results from the violence unleashed by the ruling party. Now they are killing each other,” Salim said at the party headquarters here.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury claimed that the situation in West Bengal has been deteriorating and it’s ideal for the imposition of Article 355 of the Constitution.
“This (number of killings) will go up in the coming days under the leadership of Trinamool Congress supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who has unbottled a ghost. It will be impossible for her to bottle the ghost again,” he said.
The leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha said he will meet President Ram Nath Kovind and urged him to consider imposing Article 355 in the stats.
The incident brought back memories of mass killings in the state during the Left rule, such as Choto Anagaria in 2001 when 11 TMC workers were burnt alive, and the Netai massacre in 2011 when nine people were killed in West Midnapore district. PTI TEAM NN NN