A police raid at a farmhouse in Meghalaya’s Tura has led to fresh cracks in the state’s ruling coalition — the National People’s Party-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance, in which the BJP is a partner.
On Saturday, the Meghalaya Police said a special operation at a farmhouse in Tura, owned by militant-turned-politician Bernard R Marak, now the vice-president of the BJP’s Meghalaya unit, had revealed that the premises was being “run as a brothel”.
The operation was launched following a complaint registered in February, when a minor girl was allegedly sexually assaulted in the farmhouse.
In a statement on Saturday evening, police said they detained 73 youths, including 23 women, and rescued five minors from the farmhouse belonging to Marak, who was “evading arrest”.
A case was registered against Marak under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956. He has said “nothing untoward” was happening on his property.
Currently an elected member of the Garo Tribal Autonomous District Council, Marak is a former militant of the now-disbanded Garo insurgent group Achik Nationalist Volunteer Council (B), which fought for a separate Garo state.
During the eight-hour-long raid, bottles of illicit liquor, 500 packets of unused condoms and contraceptive tablets, Rs 37,000 in cash, 37 vehicles, 47 mobile phones and incriminating documents were found, police said. The police statement said that “five children (four boys and one girl)” were found “locked inside dingy cabin-like unhygienic rooms” and in “a state of shock”. It added that many young boys and girls were “openly drinking in the premises” and some of them were found sitting inside vehicles “without clothes or with very less clothes on the body”.
Police said Marak had “more than 25 criminal cases” registered against him. “Even after the disbandment of the outfit, he has been indulging in criminal activities like extortion from traders of Tura market, criminal intimidation, arms smuggling, prostitution, illegal sale of liquor, illegal sale of lottery tickets, encroachment on other’s property,” the statement said. It added that Marak was “not cooperating” with the investigation. “His last location was detected near Guwahati, after that (his) mobile (was) switched off,” said LR Bishnoi, Meghalaya’s Director General of Police.
In a video statement on Sunday, Marak said there was a “threat to his life”. “I am not absconding or evading arrest, but I am just trying to be safe and bring out the truth to the public,” he said.
The BJP leader said that a “planned conspiracy” was afoot to “malign” his image by the Conrad Sangma-led NPP. “The BJP is now accepted in the state… This has created insecurity among other political leaders, especially Conrad Sangma, who has directed the police to file a case against me and gun me down,” he alleged.
Marak said “nothing untoward” was happening on his property. “Police have come and created fear psychosis. They are linking up old cases that have nothing to do with me,” he said.
The BJP’s support
The BJP has come out in support of Marak, calling him a “a victim of political vendetta, unjustly framed and maligned” because of his “growing popularity in Garo Hills, specifically Tura South.”
“The guests staying at the resort come from respectable families and branding the resort a ‘brothel’ is highly objectionable and unacceptable,” said Ernest Mawrie, president of the BJP’s state unit.
“The people arrested were guests who had paid for their stay. Likewise, the vehicles confiscated belonged to these guests,” he said, adding that the youths were being “supported financially” by Marak. “Young underprivileged children have also been shown in poor light. The resort has been running for the last three years and there have never been any complaints whatsoever,” he said.
“On July 21, one day before the raid was carried out, NPP youth pasted posters all over Tura maligning Shri Bernard Marak,” he added.
In May, Marak had accused Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and his parliamentarian sister, Agatha Sangma, of misappropriation of funds through “ghost projects” in their constituencies.
The NPP is yet to comment on the allegations against Marak.
Meghalaya will hold Assembly elections next year.