BJP leader gunned down in Barrackpore as political violence rises before Bengal Assembly election

Published : October 05, 2020 22:28 IST

Manish Shukla, BJP leader from Barrackpore division in West Bengal who was shot dead on October 4 by motorcycle-borne gunmen. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Political violence has once again raised its head in West Bengal as the Assembly elections in the State draws near. On October 5, Barrackpore subdivision in North 24 Paraganas district resembled a war zone following the killing of Manish Shukla, an influential Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from the region. Shukla, who had joined the BJP from the ruling Trinamool Congress in 2019, was gunned down in Titagarh around 8:30 p.m. on October 4, when he was returning from a party meeting.

Shukla, a close aide of Arjun Singh, the BJP strongman and MP from Barrackpore, was conversing with people at a tea stall, which is a stone’s throw from the local police station, when the assassins in motorbikes shot him multiple times from close range. Arjun, a former Trinamool MLA in the region before he switched camps, held Trinamool responsible for Shukla’s death. “Around 15 people were standing around near the police station waiting for him [Shukla] to arrive, waiting to shoot him,” said Arjun, alleging that it was a “joint operation” carried out by the Trinamool and the police.

Kailash Vijayvargiya, national general secretary of the BJP, said, “Had Manish not been killed in public the police would have called it a case of suicide. In West Bengal, the police is a magician that turns political murders into suicide.” Earlier in the year, on July 13, the body of the BJP legislator Debendra Nath Roy from Uttar Dinajpur district in north Bengal, was found hanging from a ceiling outside a shuttered shop in a local market. One of his hands was tied up. Trinamool, however, countered that Shukla was killed due to feuds within the BJP. Thirty-nine-year-old Shukla, a lawyer by profession, was a popular figure in the area and was known to be swiftly rising up the political ladder.

The West Bengal Police had posted on social media, “A person was shot dead last evening in Titagarh area of Barrackpore. Police is investigating the crime and looking into all possible reasons including personal enmity because the victim was accused in some cases of murder and attempt of murder. Please do not jump on conclusion without proper investigation. Irresponsible comments on social media tantamount to interference in the investigation. Please refrain from this.”

Reacting to the post by the police, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar stated on social media, “Criminal Jurisprudence Principles thoroughly sacrificed @WBPolice @MamataOfficial. An all out effort to cover up and fishing for alibis. The manner of this dastardly act calls for focus on all angles including terror. West Bengal Police far distanced from fair investigation.”

The day after Shukla’s murder, the Titagarh area erupted in violence as BJP workers and local people staged agitations. In several places the police had to resort to tear gas shelling and lathi charge to keep the angry mobs at bay. Later in the day there was further unrest when the police refused to allow the BJP to take the body of Shukla to the Raj Bhavan. A delegation of BJP leaders, along with Shukla’s father, however, met the Governor. Speaking to the media after the meeting, Arjun Singh said, “There were 19 bullets in his body. The incident occurred in front of a police station and weapons used for the crime are mostly used by police. We demanded a probe by the CBI.”

Barrackpore has been on the boil ever since Trinamool lost control of the region to the BJP. The political observer and psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty feels that there is a direct connection between political killings and a change of regime in the State. “In 2009 and 2010 we saw a series of murders before ‘paribartan’ [change] took place. Once again we see political killings taking place one after another, and Manish Shukla’s murder is a part of those killings. The police in Barrackpore have failed to address the law and order situation there in spite of the continuing violence…. They have failed because there is a political motive behind the violence,” Biswanath Chakraborty told Frontline.