Tensions have been simmering in Barrackpore, which is part of the industrial belt in the North 24 Parganas district, since last year’s Lok Sabha elections. With the latest incident of political violence, things appear to have come to a head. On Sunday night, local BJP leader and strongman Manish Shukla was gunned down by masked assailants in Titagarh while he was chatting with some people at a tea stall near a makeshift party office.
This is the third high-profile shooting in the region in as many months. In July, Trinamool Congress leader Dharmendra Singh was shot in the head in the Kankinara industrial area by two men on a bike. However, he survived the assassination attempt. The same month, the TMC councillor from North Barrackpore Municipality Ward 2, Champa Das, was shot in the leg near her home.
At present, the situation is volatile in areas such Kankinara, Bhatpara, Naihati, Halishahar and Bijpur, all of which come under the Barrackpore Lok Sabha constituency. The situation has become even more volatile ahead of next year’s Assembly elections.
“The goons here enjoy political patronage and often attack their rivals with bombs and bullets, creating problems. Many have been arrested in the past and most of them manage to get bail,” said a local police official on the condition of anonymity.
A Titagarh resident said that life had become nightmarish since last year. “Sounds of bombs and bullets seem routine here. This has been really troubling us since the Lok Sabha polls,” he said.
While both the TMC and the BJP blamed each other for the deteriorating situation, the police have struggled to restore peace. “Yes some people try to instigate violence in the area to satisfy their vested interests, but the situation is under control,” said a senior police officer in the Barrackpore commissionerate.
Shukla was considered to be the right-hand man of Barrackpore MP Arjun Singh, who was earlier with the TMC. Singh defected to the BJP before last year’s Lok Sabha elections, and defeated TMC heavyweight Dinesh Trivedi in an acrimonious and closely fought election.
Following Singh’s victory, Shukla too joined the saffron outfit. He propelled the Opposition party’s rise in Titagarh, and was given the responsibility to ensure its victory in the Barrackpore Assembly segment in the 2021 state polls.
Arjun Singh, who referred to Shukla as his “younger brother” in his statement following the murder on Sunday night, blamed the police’s partisan attitude for the worsening situation. “Here, the police work as TMC party members. They give shelter to those who attack us, and thus they face retaliation,” he said.
District Trinamool chief and Bengal food minister Jyotipriya Mullick told The Indian Express that the fight in Barrackpore was between criminals and not political leaders.
“Any death or act of violence is unfortunate but here the fight is between criminals, and not political leaders. Local rowdies earn crores of rupees by selling power plant ashes and scraps in Titagarh, Barrackpore, Khardah and Kankinara. Not only this, people with criminal background play ‘satta [gambling]’ and extort money. Also, when Arjun Singh joined BJP many of his people refused to go with him because they prefered Mamata Banerjee’s work. This resulted in groupism,” he said.
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