Eight people died in Rampurhat town of West Bengal’s Birbhum district on Tuesday after their houses were set on fire following the alleged murder of a panchayat leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress, PTI reported, citing the police.
Bhadu Sheikh, the panchayat head of Barshal village, had succumbed to his injuries after unidentified people allegedly hurled bombs at him on Monday night.
“An hour after the news of the murder of Trinamool Congress leader Bhadu Sheikh last night, seven to eight nearby houses were set on fire,” West Bengal Director General of Police Manoj Malaviya told ANI. “Eleven people have been arrested in this regard.”
Seven bodies were recovered from one house, while one person died of injuries in hospital.
Malaviya said that the police officer-in-charge of Rampurhat and the sub-divisional police officer have been removed from their posts. He added that the police were looking into the connection between Sheikh’s murder and the violence, reported The Hindu.
The West Bengal government said that it has set up a Special Investigation Team, led by Additional Director General of Police (Criminal Investigation Department) Gyanwant Singh.
The Trinamool Congress has also formed a three-member team of party MLAs, headed by minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim to investigate the matter, according to PTI.
“Whether it is a separate incident or connected to the death of the leader who was killed hours before can’t be ascertained right now,” Hakim told The Indian Express.
Trinamool Congress spokesperson Kunal Ghosh claimed that the incident was a result of a local conflict.
“The deaths due to the fire incident in Rampurhat is unfortunate,” he tweeted. “But it has got nothing to do with politics.”
Trinamool Congress’ Birbhum district chief Anubrata Mondal told The Indian Express that the police were examining the camera footage where Sheikh’s body was found.
Meanwhile, the Union home ministry sought a report about the incident from the West Bengal government, according to PTI. The move came after a nine-member delegation of the Bharatiya Janata Party met Home Minister Amit Shah and sought his intervention into the matter.
The ministry asked the West Bengal government to maintain the law and order situation in the region and ensure the security of common people, PTI reported, citing unidentified officials.
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar has also sought an urgent update on the incident from the chief secretary of the state. In a video posted on Twitter, Dhankar said he was pained by the incident and it “indicates state is in grip of violence culture and lawlessness”.
Several Opposition leaders demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the home ministry, according to The Hindu.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary Mohammed Salim described the fire incident as a massacre. Salim claimed that the formation of the Special Investigation Team to inquire the incident was an attempt to suppress “investigation and truth”.
Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Assembly Suvendhu Adhikari said the law and order situation in Bengal was grave, reported ANI.
“Twenty-six murders have taken place in last one week in different parts of the state,” he said. “Centre should intervene and use Article 356 [president’s rule] or Article 355 [duty of the Union to protect States against external aggression and internal disturbance] to take the situation in their control in Bengal.”
State BJP unit chief said the the matter has been brought to the notice of Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava who will hear the case on Tuesday.