In the political fight after eight people were burnt alive by a mob at a village in Bengal’s Birbhum, Mamata Banerjee will today visit the area. The Chief Minister has been accused by the opposition BJP of presiding over a complete collapse of law and order in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday described the killings as “heinous” and said those responsible for them should not be forgiven.
Eight people, including three women and two children, were locked in their homes and burnt alive by a mob on Tuesday in what was believed to be retaliation after a local Trinamool Congress leader was killed in a crude bomb attack. Charred bodies were found a day later, mostly belonging to one family.
Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday vowed strict action, “regardless of political colours”, and announced that she would visit the village Bogtui, where the horrific incident took place.
The state government has set up a special investigation team and some 20 people have been arrested. However, the BJP has demanded a central investigation, the sacking of the Chief Minister and President’s Rule.
Yesterday, the Calcutta High Court stepped in and said not enough was being done to catch those responsible for the attack, and ordered the state government to protect witnesses and set up CCTV cameras at the site. The court also asked the state government to file a report on the incident by 2 pm today.
Several policemen are at the village on the outskirts of Rampurhat town, where many residents have fled, fearing reprisals or arrests. The 10 houses that were set on fire are deserted.
The violence spiralled after the killing of Trinamool Panchayat deputy chief Bhadu Sheikh. According to news agency PTI, his sons are among the suspects picked up by the police.
Since Tuesday, several political leaders, mainly from the BJP, have visited the village along with TV crew.
PM Modi said his government was willing to help the state in any way to bring the accused to justice.
“I hope that the state government will definitely ensure that those who have committed such heinous crimes are punished,” Modi said.
“I would also urge the people of Bengal to never forgive the perpetrators of such incidents, those who encourage such criminals. The centre would extend all sorts of help to the state government to ensure the culprits are booked,” he said.
Mamata Banerjee, who has come under a fierce attack from the BJP, alleged a conspiracy to defame her government.
“It was an attempt by the BJP, Left and the Congress to malign our government… Strict action will be taken against all those responsible for the Birbhum incident, irrespective of their (political) colour,” she said.
Without naming anyone, Ms Banerjee said that the incident was orchestrated because “they failed to cause a riot”.
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who has had a difficult relationship with the Chief Minister throughout his tenure, alleged that the incident had put democracy and humanity to shame.
Mr Dhankhar, in a letter to Ms Banerjee, said the state government’s actions smacked of “political overtones” and an attempt to shield the guilty.
“In the face of such enormity, I cannot fiddle in Raj Bhavan and be a mute spectator,” he wrote.
Ms Banerjee, stung by the Governor’s accusations, said: “There is one ‘Lat Saheb’ (lordly person) sitting who is describing Bengal as the worst state and hurling abuses at the state government.”