The Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday sought a report from the West Bengal government after eight people died in Birbhum district as their houses were set on fire following the alleged murder of a panchayat leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress, ANI reported. The ministry has asked for the report within 72 hours.
The police said women and children were among those killed. Seven charred bodies were recovered from one house alone, while one person died of injuries in a hospital in Birbhum.
Bhadu Sheikh, the panchayat head of Barshal village, died after miscreants allegedly hurled bombs at him on Monday night. Hours later, violence erupted and several houses, including two accused of Sheikh’s murder, were allegedly attacked and set on fire, The Indian Express reported.
West Bengal Director General of Police Manoj Malaviya said officers were establishing if there was a connection between Sheikh’s death and the arson.
At a press conference in New Delhi, Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha member Locket Chatterjee claimed that “terrorist acts” were being committed in West Bengal, IANS reported. West Bengal, she said, must be “saved”.
She added that a delegation of BJP MPs from West Bengal met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and demanded a fair investigation into the violence. The BJP leader also sought an inquiry into the matter by the Central Bureau of Investigation or National Investigation Agency.
At the briefing, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia alleged that firefighters were stopped from doing their job on Tuesday. He also claimed that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was responsible for the arson.
“The goons of Trinamool Congress are destroying the justice system of the state,” he added.
The Trinamool Congress, however, has dismissed the allegations. While party spokesperson Kunal Ghosh claimed that the incident was a result of a local conflict, Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal maintained that the fire may have started due to a short circuit.
The police have filed two first information reports, one in connection with Sheikh’s death and the second related to attack on the houses, The Indian Express reported. The police have arrested 11 people for the arson.
The West Bengal government has set up a Special Investigation Team. The inspector-in-charge and sub-divisional police officer of Rampurhat block have also been suspended.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankar sought an urgent update from the chief secretary on the matter. He also called it an incident of “horrifying violence and arson orgy”.
Banerjee, however, rebuked him for making “sweeping and uncalled for comments”, PTI reported. In a letter, she added that his remarks were unfortunate and unbecoming of a person holding such a dignified constitutional post.
“Your utterances and statements have political overtones which provide support to other political parties to browbeat the government,” the chief minister wrote.