Rampurhat Violence: From Driver to Panchayat Leader – The Story of Bhadu Sheikh
Bhadu Sheikh rose to power from being a driver to one of the richest and most influential people in Rampurhat.
Fear and violence gripped the small village of Bogtui in West Bengal’s Birbhum after Trinamool Congress Panchayat leader Bhadu Sheikh was killed on Monday, 21 March.
According to police sources, Sheikh was killed on Monday at 8:30 pm when he was at a tea-stall that he usually frequents. He moved away from his guards to take a phone call, when six to seven attackers came in motorcycles and hurled crude bombs at him. The attackers fled the scene immediately.
Sheikh was pronounced dead after he was brought to the government hospital in Rampurhat.
Police recovered the charred bodies of at least eight people on Tuesday, 22 March after miscreants allegedly set fire to the houses of Sona Sheikh, Mihilal Sheikh, Fatik Sheikh and Banirul Sheikh, supposedly distant relatives of Bhadu Sheikh. It is yet to be confirmed if this was in retaliation to Bhadu Sheikh's killing or linked to it in any way.
But who was Bhadu Sheikh and what is the story behind his rise in the area?
From Driver to Panchayat Leader
Bhadu Sheikh hailed from Birbhum’s Bogtai village. The village has two localities – the Purbapara (eastern locality) and the Paschimpara (western locality). Sheikh was from Paschimpara but several of his supposed relatives including Sona Sheikh, Mihilal Sheikh and Banirul Sheikh lived in Purbapara.
Coming from a humble background, Bhadu Sheikh used to be a driver for the local police station in Rampurhat. He was later promoted to postmaster of his village. As he grew in his career, he is said to have gained access to truck drivers ferrying sand, coal and stone chips.
Birbhum is rich in all three and the region is infamous for its sand and coal mafias. Bhadu allegedly would extort these truck drivers for money. Through that, he became rich and started running several side businesses.
Politically, Bhadu Sheikh used to be initially associated with the Congress before he switched over to the TMC after they won the Assembly Elections in 2011. Since then, he has steadily grown to become an influential person in Birbhum’s Rampurhat through his money.
He enjoyed steady support from the party and locals.
One of his distant relatives even alleged that he was scared to work with Bhadu Sheikh as he too would end up becoming a ‘gunda with a gun’ and would be forced to indulge in ‘corrupt practices’.
As he grew in power and influence, he became a strongman for the TMC. To become a strongman in Birbhum, you would need to have the blessing of TMC Birbhum district president Anubrata Mandal, who pretty much runs the show in that area and has often been accused of involvement in the coal and sand mining.
In 2013, Bhadu Sheikh was nominated for the Panchayat elections by the party. But it is only in 2018 that he was elected as a member of the Barshal gram panchayat and was made the deputy chief, uncontested.
Birbhum, a TMC stronghold, is known for political violence and the 2018 Panchayat polls were no exception. Opposition leaders were attacked when they tried to file nominations. TMC leaders were accused of unleashing brutal violence against opposition parties in the election in which Sheikh emerged victorious.
Locals say that Sheikh had worked extensively for the TMC during the civic elections.
Bhadu Sheikh’s brother and close aide Babar Sheikh used to be a truck driver before he started assisting him in several businesses that he had been running since he became the deputy chief.
When Bhadu's Relatives Became His Enemies
Locals say that the village has historically had two political groups who have always been at odds with each other. Previously they were part of the Left, but switched allegiance towards the TMC, but their rivalry never stopped. Bhadu Sheikh and his relatives too became a part of this factional warfare as their political clout grew.
Bhadu, Babar and his other relatives were part of one faction. Bhadu had in fact campaigned extensively for that faction during the elections, which did not go down well with the other faction. The faction was already miffed with Bhadu’s alleged extortion tactics and his rise to power in a short span of time.
According to locals, his relatives (and once colleagues) like Palash Sheikh, Sona Sheikh, Lalan Sheikh, Santrooj Sheikh, Mahi Sheikh and Hanif Sheikh felt that they did not get an equal share of the money that Bhadu and his brother were making.
Sheikh’s brother Jehangir told The Indian Express that Bhadu was paying his colleagues around Rs 20,000 to 30,000 a month. But apparently that wasn’t enough.
Thus, they decided to leave his side and supposedly join the other faction.
This way, the bitterness between the rivalries reached Bhadu Sheikh’s household, and it kept aggravating over time.
His brother Babar Sheikh was killed on 5 January 2021, in what many have alleged was carried out by Sona Sheikh and Palash Sheikh, who are also accused in the murder of Bhadu Sheikh.
Sheikh’s brother Jehangir told The Indian Express that Sona Sheikh and others would constantly threaten their family. They even alleged that Sona Sheikh and others had called to threaten them about his brother’s death, two days before the incident.
DGP Manoj Malviya said that all angles are being probed, and while a political angle to this can be ruled out, personal enmity as a motive must also be considered.
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